In Washington State, Bremerton High School assistant football coach Joe Kennedy announced at a press conference on Oct. 14 that he plans to publicly pray after the school's homecoming game on Oct. 16.
The Bremerton School District sent Kennedy a letter in September telling him not to pray because students players join him and it appears to be a faculty-led prayer on school property. Kennedy complied, and told the Kitsap Sun that his lawyers and the school district lawyers had come to a "conclusion" (video below).
However, Kennedy has decided to pray now that he is represented by the Liberty Institute, a Christian law firm which sent a letter to the school district demanding that the ban on Kennedy's prayers be lifted by 5 p.m on Oct. 16, King 5 News reports.
Regardless of the school district's response, Kennedy says he plans to pray, and will file a lawsuit, if he gets fired, based on his First Amendment rights.
Kennedy told Q13 Fox News:
I tell the kids. Hey, you do what’s right. If you don’t agree with it, you challenge it. And that’s what we’re doing, we’re absolutely challenging it.
As far as I’m concerned I’m just going to do what I’ve always done. I’m just going to do my prayer.
However, the problem is that Kennedy is a public employee and is leading student football players in prayer on the field.
In response to that argument, Hennedy's lawyer Hiram Sasser claims Kennedy is no longer a public employee after the football game is over.
“If players come out to the 50-yard line with him he has no duty under the law to flee the scene,” Sasser stated.
Andrew Seidel, a lawyer with the Freedom From Religion Foundation, countered:
There is no real legal leg the coach has to stand on here. He is absolutely in the wrong.
He’s free to practice his religion. He just doesn’t get to use a public office to impose it on children.
Even though players have been joining Kennedy for his prayers on the 50-yard line since 2008, the Liberty Institute claims on its website: "Each post-game prayer lasts approximately 15 to 20 seconds, during which Coach Kennedy is unaware of who may or may not be in the vicinity."
"Coach Kennedy’s sole intent, as motivated by his sincerely-held religious beliefs, is to say a brief prayer of thanksgiving and then move on."
Kennedy held to that claim of individual religious freedom during an interview with Todd Starnes at FoxNews.com:
I’m being investigated for thanking God for the opportunities that have been given me. It’s absolutely ridiculous.
I spent 20 years in the military defending the Constitution and the freedoms that everybody has. All of a sudden, I realized that people who work for the public schools don’t have the same constitutional rights that everyone else has.
I’m not a guy who hides in a corner and does a secret prayer to God. I’m very open about my faith everywhere I go.