SEATTLE -- A Bremerton High School football coach is planning a bold move that could end up costing his job.
The controversy boils down to prayer in schools, but coach Joe Kennedy is determined to keep praying with any players who want to join him.
Kennedy and his lawyer believe that the prayers don’t break the law because it happens after the game. Critics however believe what they are doing is a direct violation of the Constitution because Kennedy is a government employee.
“I tell the kids. Hey, you do what’s right,” said Kennedy. “If you don’t agree with it, you challenge it.” And that’s what we’re doing, we’re absolutely challenging it.”
Kennedy said he will follow the district’s policy and stop holding prayer in the locker room, but out on the field he plans to stand his ground.
“As far as I’m concerned I’m just going to do what I’ve always done,” said Kennedy. “I’m just going to do my prayer.”
Kenney’s attorney from the Liberty Institute sent a letter to the Bremerton School District asking for a religious accommodation which would allow Kennedy to continue his after game prayers. Because the prayers happen after the school function, attorney Hiram Sasser believes Kennedy is no longer a public employee.
“If players come out to the 50-yard line with him he has no duty under the law to flee the scene,” said Sasser.
It all started back in 2008 when players saw Kennedy praying on the 50-yard line after a game. Soon his entire team, including opponents, joined him in prayer.
But the U.S. Constitution calls for separation of church and state, meaning prayer is not allowed in public schools.
The district superintendent sent out a letter outlining the rules for staff.
It said in part, “Talks with students may not include religious expression including prayer. They must remain entirely secular in nature to avoid alienation of any team member.”
“There is no real legal leg the coach has to stand on here,” said Andrew Seidel, an attorney with the Freedom From Religion Foundation. “He is absolutely in the wrong.”
Seidel said his organization received a complaint in September about the after-game prayers. Seidel believes the district is doing the right thing to protect students from religious indoctrination.
“He’s free to practice his religion he just doesn’t get to use a public office to impose it on children,” Seidel added.
But Kennedy and Sasser said the coach is not imposing religion on anyone – and that he plans to pray after Friday’s homecoming game even if he could lose his job.
“I’m not really concerned about it,” Kennedy said. “I really think the school district is going to do the right thing.”