A high school football coach who won a Supreme Court verdict protecting his right to pray on the field has reached a nearly $2 million settlement with the school district that placed him on administrative leave in 2015.
The Bremerton school district board in Washington state voted unanimously Thursday to approve payment of the $1,775,000 settlement to lawyers for former coach Joseph Kennedy.
Kennedy will also return as an assistant football coach for Bremerton High School for the 2023 season, receiving a $5,304 stipend for the season, the district said in a statement.
Last June, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in favor of the coach, finding that his right to kneel with student athletes and pray on the field after games was protected by the Constitution.
‘It’s just amazing to know that I didn’t do anything wrong. Everything I did was right,’ he told DailyMail.com immediately after the verdict.
Joseph Kennedy (center) returns as assistant football coach for Bremerton High School after reaching a nearly $2 million settlement with the district
After losing his coaching job for refusing to stop kneeling in prayer with players and spectators on the field immediately after football games, Kennedy took his case to the Supreme Court.
Following the district’s settlement, school board president Alyson Rotter said in a statement, “We look forward to moving past the distraction of this nearly 8-year legal battle so our school community can focus on what matters most: providing our children the best education”. possible.’
Kennedy began coaching at the school in 2008 and initially prayed alone at the 50-yard line late in games.
Over time, students began to join him and he also began to give a short inspirational talk with religious references.
Kennedy did that for years without issue, and also led students in locker room prayers.
Then, in 2015, the school district received complaints that some athletes felt pressured to join the prayers and asked it to stop for fear the district could be sued for violating students’ religious freedom rights.
He stopped leading the students in prayer in the locker room and on the field, but he himself wanted to continue kneeling and praying on the field after games. The school asked him not to do it while he was still “on duty” as coach after games.
When he continued, the school put him on paid leave. Later, the varsity head coach recommended that he not be rehired because, among other things, he failed to follow district policy.
The Supreme Court’s ruling in the case pitted mostly conservative justices against dissenting liberals, who argued that the decision “takes us further down a dangerous path by forcing states to entangle with religion.”
Bremerton school board members (left to right) Karen Bolton, Jonee Dubos, Julie Meyer, Alyson Rotter, Carolynn Perkins and John Hurley voted in favor of the agreement
Kennedy had said that he would happily return to the district to train again if he won the case.
But the judges mostly emphasized that the coach’s prayers came after the games were over and at a time when he was not responsible for the students and was free to do other things.
Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing for the majority in the ruling, declared: ‘The Constitution and the best of our traditions advise mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and repression, for both religious and non-religious views.’
Gorsuch noted that the coach “prayed during a period when school employees had the freedom to talk to a friend, make a restaurant reservation, check email or attend to other personal matters” and “while his students were busy “.
Kennedy insisted that there was never any coercion to join him in prayer, but rather that it had been a personal act of worship.
“I had a commitment to God that I would thank him after every football game, win or lose,” Kennedy said last June. ‘And that’s how I started.’
Kennedy moved to Florida while the case unfolded, but now seems ready to return to his old coaching job in Washington.
He previously told the Associated Press that he went to Florida to help his father-in-law, but his family remains in Washington and it was never his intention to stay in Florida permanently.
In a statement Friday, the Bremerton school district insisted that it had “repeatedly offered to accommodate Mr. Kennedy’s desire to pray, as long as he was not delivering prayers to students or coercing students to join in.” he”.
‘Mister. Kennedy’s lawyers refused to accept any resolution that did not include Mr. Kennedy praying in a way that involved students,” the district added.