BREMERTON, Wash. – A Washington high school assistant football coach is suing the Bremerton School District after he was fired for quietly praying on the 50-yard line after games.
Assistant coach Joe Kennedy was suspended in October and terminated in November for refusing orders from school officials to stop his silent post-game prayers. The Christian coach had prayed before and after games since 2008, and many students on the team joined him, but a visitor from another school complained that players may feel compelled to participate and argued the act equates to the school endorsing religion.
The episode also gained the attention of the Satanic Temple of Seattle, whose members attended a Bremerton football game decked on in devil gear to demand equal access to pray publicly. At one point, players from multiple teams, parents, and local residents joined Kennedy on the field to pray after games in a show of solidarity, EAGnews reported.
In the time since Kennedy’s termination, several Republican presidential candidates and numerous religious liberty advocates have flooded him with support on social media, television and in newspaper op-eds, The Seattle Times reports.
On Tuesday, Kennedy filed a federal lawsuit against the Bremerton School District with the help of the First Liberty Institute, and held a press conference outside of the U.S. District Court in Tacoma.
Kennedy alleges the district discriminated against him based on his religion, and violated both his First Amendment rights and protections under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to the news site.
“No American should have to choose between their faith and their job,” said Mike Berry, Kennedy’s attorney.
The lawsuit follows a discrimination complaint Kennedy filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in December that alleges other school employees have prayed or expressed their religion and kept their jobs.
“I’m the only one they made an example of,” Kennedy said.
“I’m just an average guy who wants to be out there coaching,” Kennedy said outside the courthouse Tuesday, according to the Times. “It’s really sad that it’s come to this.”
The new lawsuit does not seek monetary compensation, but rather asks the court to reinstate Kennedy as assistant coach and to allow him to “quietly and briefly” pray after games.
“Coach Kennedy is not motivated to engage in private religious expression in order to proselytize or attract others to his religious faith,” the Associated Press quoted from the lawsuit. “Instead, he offers a brief prayer of thanksgiving as part of a covenant he made with God before he started coaching at BHS.”
The school’s “blanket ban on any demonstrative religious expression by Coach Kennedy violates the First Amendment, as does its decision to take adverse employment action against him because of such expression,” the lawsuit read.
School district officials acknowledged they are aware of the lawsuit, but declined to comment.