Christian Coach Plans to Pray Solo After Homecoming Game as District Bans Student Participation

Kennedy-compressedBREMERTON, Wash. — A Christian coach in Washington is planning to pray by himself after tonight’s homecoming game following an order from his school district banning students from joining him in the practice.

As previously reported, Joe Kennedy, the assistant head coach for the varsity team at Bremerton High School and the head coach for the junior varsity team, takes a moment after each game to pray at the 50-yard line.

According to reports, Kennedy prays alone of his own volition after the field has cleared and his coaching duties are through, but there are also instances when students and players decide to join him.

He said that after beginning the practice in 2008, several team members approached him and asked what he was doing.

“I was thanking God for you guys,” Kennedy recalls responding. “Then a couple said they were Christians and asked if they could join. I responded, ‘It’s a free country, you can do whatever you want to do.’”

He said that he never asked students to pray with him, but some desired to, including those from the opposing team.

“They just all showed up one day and the next thing I know, the other team was showing up with us,” Kennedy said.

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However, last month, the Bremerton School District launched an investigation into the coach’s practices, and soon sent a letter outlining that some aspects of his religious expression must discontinue. It noted that Kennedy not only prays at the conclusion of each game, but also prays in the locker room with students and staff.

While the district acknowledged that “[e]ach activity has been voluntary” and that Kennedy has not “actively encouraged or required participation,” it asserted that the practices were still unconstitutional.

“I recognize that you and all district employees possess fundamental free exercise and free expression rights under the First Amendment,” wrote Superintendent Aaron Leavell. “However, the courts have held that where there is a direct tension between the district’s need to avoid an Establish Clause violation and a school employee’s free exercise or expression rights, the latter must yield so far as necessary to avoid school endorsement of religious activities.”

He then laid out rules so that the district would decrease its chances of legal liabilities, stating that while Kennedy may engage in religious activity, “students may not be allowed to join such activity.”

“In order to avoid the perception of endorsement …, such activity should either be non-demonstrative (i.e. not outwardly discernible as religious activity) if students are also engaged in religious conduct, or it should occur while students are not engaging in such conduct,” Leavell stated.

While Kennedy has agreed to discontinue the locker room prayer, his attorneys with the Texas-based Liberty Institute state that he has done nothing wrong in seeking to pray by himself at the conclusion of each game. They say there is neither any constitutional violation in permitting students to join.

The Liberty Institute sent a demand letter to the Bremerton School District on Wednesday, advising that Kennedy plans to pray after the homecoming game today, and asking that it rescind its restrictions.

“No reasonable observer could conclude that a football coach who waits until the game is over and the players have left the field and then walks to mid-field to say a short, private, personal prayer is speaking on behalf of the state,” wrote Deputy Chief Counsel Hiram Sasser.

“[Your directive] is tantamount to a declaration that Coach Kennedy, while praying as you concede he is allowed to do, must flee the scene if students voluntarily come to the same area and pray as well,” he continued. “There is no requirement in the law that Coach Kennedy flee from students if they voluntarily choose to come to a place where he is privately praying during personal time.”

The Liberty Institute says that it may sue the district if its prohibition is not reversed.


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  • Frank

    Pray anyways no matter what the law or USSC says.

    • Cosmic Mastermind

      I’m not sure if it was this same guy or someone else, but I read a case not long ago of a football coach who bullied students into praying, and any student who was not a Christian or failed to participate in his religious Christian activities either had no chance of getting onto the team, or was kicked off the team for not being Christian enough or being the “wrong kind” of Christian.

      That’s why I absolutely support keeping prayer out of the game.

      • Frank

        The situation you describe, real or imagined, is not the situation here. And whether or not you support prayer or not is of no consequence as it is the Lord that is of consequence in the situation here. He has given us examples to follow in situations such as these and examples of not following those examples and the consequences of each. I support being on God’s side.

        • Cosmic Mastermind

          Isn’t it? How do you know? How can you be sure that these students are not being pressured into joining in a public display of group prayer when they don’t want to?

      • Surey Morales

        If you read, this article is not about a football coach so it’s definitely not the same as your real or imagined story.

      • WorldGoneCrazy

        You are most correct that it is un-Christian to bully anyone into prayer. But, that is not the same as allowing voluntary prayer, which is a 1st Amendment right in the US (or used to be) anyplace and anytime. And even if it were not, Christians are required to pray, including for those who persecute us.

        • acontraryview

          “which is a 1st Amendment right in the US (or used to be) anyplace and anytime.”

          The 1st Amendment provides no such right. The 1st Amendment provides the protection that the government will not pass laws prohibiting the expression of religious beliefs. That does NOT equal to citizens being allowed to pray in any place, at any time, and in any manner they care to. There are restrictions.

          • WorldGoneCrazy

            “There are restrictions.”

            What kind of restrictions are there to voluntary prayer? I need to know, because I might be breaking Liberal Sharia Law. 🙂

          • acontraryview

            You are not allowed to express your religious beliefs in a manner that infringes upon the rights of others. For example, you are not allowed to go out in front your house at 3 am with a bullhorn and start expressing your religious beliefs. There are restrictions, and they have nothing to do with “Liberal Sharia Law”, a phrase that is nonsensical. Sharia Law is most certainly not “liberal”.

          • WorldGoneCrazy

            Well, of course! Free speech is always limited. But, how is voluntary prayer limited? You mean if someone prays out loud with a bullhorn in front of your house at 3 am? (Interestingly, the ACLU successfully defended a man who blared his horn at 3 am in front of a Governor’s house as “free speech.”) But, in the case of voluntary prayer, then who says that it must be audible?

            Certainly, in the case at hand, we can see no reason why voluntary prayer would be limited. As for Liberal Sharia Law being an oxymoron, that was once true: but liberal fascism is the new rage. 🙂

          • acontraryview

            “Well, of course! Free speech is always limited.”

            Then we are in agreement.

        • Cosmic Mastermind

          I agree in part; some students might want to join in a group prayer during a football game, the problem is that you can’t tell when the prayer is voluntary or coerced; all it takes is a stern hint from the coach that “prayer is expected” to force all the students to comply whether they like it or not.

    • bowie1

      If he is praying on his own then the law or USSC has nothing to say about it – and the atheist hatemongers.

      • Frank

        True. Though he should and needs to pray with other students should they desire to of their own volition. He needs not be silent when the world tells him to not speak or pray in That Name.

  • Josey

    We must be like Daniel! No true follower of Christ forces anyone to pray with them, it is voluntary and these students volunteered to come pray with the coach. You cannot make anyone bow their head and pray, not even in church nor can anyone stop a person from praying if they choose to do so. The FFRF is a berserk, atheist, hate filled organization against anything God or Christ, one day it shall be cast into the lake of fire along with all other ungodly institutions like it! Come Lord Jesus, Come!

  • Nidalap

    I’m guessing he won’t be praying alone for very long. Nothing like totalitarian would-be despots making demands to inspire a bit of pointed opposition! (^_^)

    • WorldGoneCrazy

      Totalitarianism has a way of bringing out the best in the Church – AND separating the wolves from the sheep.

    • basalisk

      then he’ll lb disciplined or fired.