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BREMERTON, Wash. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A Christian high school coach in Washington state has won nearly $2M in a religious liberty lawsuit.
After losing his job in 2015 for praying on the field, football coach Joseph Kennedy has been awarded a $1.7M settlement by Bremerton School District. Kennedy's lawsuit went all the way to the Supreme Court, where the majority of justices agreed last June that the school violated Kennedy's First Amendment rights.
The school district stated on its website, "The Bremerton School District will fully comply with the court's order to treat Mr. Kennedy's personal religious conduct the same way the district treats all other personal conduct by coaches at football games. ... Mr. Kennedy will be an assistant football coach for Bremerton High School for the 2023 season."
Last week, the school board voted unanimously to make the payment to him over three years. The board also agreed to pay for his legal fees from the eight-year legal battle over his right to pray on the field.
Before he was fired in 2015, Kennedy would pray after games, often on the 50-yard line. Students, staff and athletes would voluntarily join the coach in praying what he called brief, private individual acts of faith.
"It was my covenant between me and God that after every game, win or lose, I'm going to do it right there on the field of battle," Kennedy noted in an interview. He insisted, "This is a right for everybody. It doesn't matter if you're this religion or that religion or have no faith whatsoever. Everybody has the same rights in America."
The school district complained, "It is very likely that over the years, players have joined in these activities because to do otherwise would mean potentially alienating themselves from their team, and possibly their coaches." One high school football player noted, "I prayed because I'm Catholic but some walked off. There was never any pressure." No players complained about the on-field prayers.
Last June, Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel John Bursch hailed the Supreme Court decision:
As the Supreme Court has affirmed, Coach Kennedy's personal prayer of gratitude at the end of a football game is protected under the First Amendment both as religious exercise and as private speech, free from government censorship. American citizens don't give up the right to prayerfully practice their faith during working hours when they accept a job with a public employer.
Kennedy's lawyer noted that more was at stake than his client's coaching future, warning that the school's decision to dismiss Kennedy could lead to a crackdown on religious expression. Meanwhile, over in England, Christians are being arrested for simply standing in silent prayer in the vicinity of abortion mills.
During his lengthy and hard-fought legal battle with the school district, Kennedy revealed that he served the United States for 20 years in the U.S. Marine Corps. He confessed, "I fought in the Marines for our freedom. I never thought I'd have to go to court to protect my own."
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