Joe Kennedy, the Bremerton, Washington assistant football coach who has been told by his school district to stop praying on the field after games, announced Monday that he will take legal action against the Bremerton school district.
Kennedy is claiming that the district is violating his rights under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prevents discrimination based on sex, race, national origin or religion.
In 2008 Kennedy began to pray after each football game on the 50-yard-line. Soon players voluntarily joined him, but this year the district has said Kennedy must stop. Kennedy has refused.
"They are threatening him with termination,” Jeremy Dys, one of the attorneys for the Liberty Institute, which is representing Kennedy, told CNS News. “We are filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, charging the Bremerton school district with a failure to accommodate Joe Kennedy’s rights. It’s a violation of Title VII of 1964 Civil Rights Act. It’s a failure to accommodate his religious beliefs.”
“Coach Kennedy started praying by himself after games in 2008 as a result of seeing the film ‘Facing the Giants,’” Dys continued. “He was inspired by that movie and said, ‘Everything I do is for the glory of God.’ He started to pray to just thank God for his players. Players began to join him, but it was totally voluntary. The players wanted to join him. They asked his permission, and he said, 'It's a free country.' The school district is saying that any time a person of faith is approached by students they all have to run away screaming. This would mean that a Jewish person could not wear a yarmulke, and a Muslim could not wear a hijab.”
Dys does not know why after seven years Kennedy’s praying has become an issue. “You never know how these things happen. The angry atheist of the week decided to write a letter.”
On October 16 Kennedy defied the order to stop praying, kneeling at the 50-yard-line as he usually does. On October 23 Aaron Leavell, the superintendent of the Bremerton school district, sent a letter to Kennedy claiming that Kennedy’s praying is a violation of the U.S. and Washington state constitutions:
While I understand that your religious exercise was fleeting, it nevertheless drew you away from your work. More importantly, any reasonable observer saw a District employee, on the field only by virtue of his employment with the District, still on duty, under the bright lights of the stadium, engaged in what was clearly, given your prior public conduct, overtly religious conduct. And there were many such observers: The game had ended mere moments earlier. Under federal court precedent, a court would almost certainly find your conduct on October 16, in the course of your District employment, to constitute District endorsement in violation of the United States Constitution. That same case law not only allows, but requires, the District to prohibit such violations from recurring. In addition, Washington courts have held that Article IX Section 4 of the Washington Constitution, which provides that public schools “shall be forever free from sectarian control or influence,” imposes an even more strict prohibition on public agency endorsement of religion.