TACOMA, Wash. -- The former high school football coach who prayed on the field after games is now suing the Bremerton School District.
Joe Kennedy said the district violated his free speech rights and civil liberties when his bosses told him he couldn't pray on the football field after games.
This coming football season will be the first Kennedy will be without a team for as long as he can remember. Now, the lawsuit filed on Tuesday will ask a federal judge to give him his job back.
“It’s just sad that we can’t talk it over and it has to end up in court over something as simple as this,” said Kennedy.
The Liberty Institute, the Texas-based law firm that’s representing Kennedy, claims the district violated his right to free speech and free exercise of religion. The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Tacoma, also claims the district violated his rights under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“He’s always tried to set the example for his kids, his student athletes, that you always do what’s right even if it’s not popular. And that’s cost him his job,” said one of Kennedy’s attorneys, Mike Berry with the First Liberty Institute.
But it isn’t so simple as letting him on the field, according to his former employer the Bremerton School District.
Last year, the district repeatedly told Kennedy to stop taking a knee and praying on the 50-yard line. But he didn’t. After being placed on administrative leave the district filled out his annual coaching evaluation with a ‘do not rehire’ recommendation.
This year, Kennedy is without a coaching job at the district but his lawyers from believe he was fired illegally, and the action violated his free speech and religious liberty rights.
“This is about of any American citizen to not have to choose between their faith and their job,” Berry said.
The Bremerton School District replied to requests for comment by Q13 News via email. District Public Information Officer Patty Glaser said in a statement:
“We are reviewing the complaint and will be working with district legal counsel to prepare the district’s defense. We will rely upon the federal court to resolve this matter, and look forward to presenting the district’s case in that esteemed venue,” the statement said in part.
Kennedy is hoping his former players will take notice and learn that fighting for what you believe in isn’t always easy.
“I want be out there right now with my guys,” he said. “I mean they’re out there training right now and I want to be right beside them.”
The Bremerton School District has 30 days to respond to Kennedy's claim.
Kennedy said he hoped school officials would meet face-to-face and offer him his job back, but his lawyers said they are prepared to fight in court.
Watch a previous interview with Coach Kennedy below: