After leading his players in prayer following a game, a high school football coach was terminated from his job. However, he has now received a settlement of $1.7 million and has been reinstated as the coach.
According to a report by the Seattle Times, Joseph Kennedy had been teaching at Bremerton High School since 2008 and had a post-game ritual of praying on the 50-yard line. Over time, students and players started to notice his actions and began to participate in them, with Kennedy giving talks that included religious references.
However, in 2015, the public school district asked Kennedy to stop the post-game prayers and religious talks, and subsequently suspended him.
Per the report, after his contract expired, Kennedy did not reapply for his position at Bremerton High School but instead filed a lawsuit challenging his termination. Represented by the First Liberty Institute, a non-profit Christian legal organization, the case eventually reached the Supreme Court.
During the trial, Kennedy argued that his post-game prayers were private and that students participated voluntarily. However, the school district alleged that his actions violated the Constitution's ban on government officials promoting religion, as students were joining in with the prayers and religious talks.
In a split 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Kennedy, stating that he was protected by the First Amendment. This overturned several lower court rulings that had sided with the school district. All justices appointed by Republicans voted in favor of Kennedy, while those appointed by Democrats voted with the school board.
Kennedy expressed his joy in a statement to the Seattle Times, stating, "This is just so awesome. All I’ve ever wanted was to be back on the field with my guys. This is just me thanking God for 15 seconds after a football game."
Kennedy also stated that he wishes to put the ordeal behind him, reiterating that he intended to pray alone and that it was entirely up to his students whether they chose to join in with him or not.
The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction in Washington state issued a statement, affirming that it is both illegal and unethical for public school employees to compel or influence students, players, staff, or other participants to engage in religious practices as a requirement for employment, participation, belonging, or playing.
Meanwhile, the Bremerton school board voted unanimously to approve a settlement that includes reinstating Kennedy as the coach at the beginning of the next season and awarding him $1.7 million.
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