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Atheist attorneys: Coach can't commute from Florida if he wins case

Atheist attorneys: Coach can't commute from Florida if he wins case


Atheist attorneys: Coach can't commute from Florida if he wins case

An atheist group that witnessed the U.S. Supreme Court agree to hear a Christian coach’s appeal is asking the justices to toss the case because Joe Kennedy moved to Florida from his home state of Washington. Attorneys for the coach call that a desperate legal move by a worried school district.

The nation’s highest court announced in January it will hear the appeal of Kennedy, who is known as the “kneeling coach” at Bremerton High for praying after home football games at the 50-yard line. That ritual ultimately cost the assistant coach his job in 2015, when he refused to stop, and his court fight against Bremerton School District has been bouncing around the courts ever since. He has also lost a string of appeals until the high court agreed to hear his case.

Bremerton School District is represented by attorneys at atheist group Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which is notorious for fighting public expressions of faith.

Kennedy is represented by First Liberty Institute.

In a Feb. 18 filing, attorneys for Americans United petitioned the high court to declare Kennedy’s appeal “moot” because he is suing to return to his coaching job but he and his wife are now residents in Florida. The filing, which can be viewed here, includes Facebook posts showing the coach and his wife, Denise, announced the move in March 2020 when they purchased a home, enjoyed a visit to the beach, and registered to vote.

Elsewhere in their petition, the atheist attorneys state that Kennedy is currently living 2,800 miles away --- Americans United apparently estimated the distance --- from his old job at Bremerton High, and that means it would be unlikely Kennedy would return to Washington for his former coaching job, the attorneys claim.  That 2,800-mile distance is also too far for Kennedy to commute to work, the attorneys also argue, so it is unlikely he would benefit from a court ruling in his favor.

According to the petition, the "year-round time commitment" to be physically present at Bremerton High, and a small stipend for junior-high coaching duties, "would not appear to allow for petitioner to commute to Washington from Florida, where petitioner and his wife have resided since at least 2020."

Reacting to the filing, First Liberty Institute attorney Stephanie Taub insists the issue could have been cleared up with a phone call among attorneys.

Taub, Stephanie (First Liberty) Taub

"Coach Kennedy temporarily moved to Florida,” Taub explains, “to take care of his father-in-law, who is undergoing very difficult circumstances, including losing his job and suffering from multiple ailments including cancer.”

The coach and his wife plan to move back to Washington if the Supreme Court rules in his favor, she tells American Family News, so the issue of his current residence is really a non-issue in a case about First Amendment rights.

According to First Liberty, the coach's current residency is not the real reason for the latest filing.

"The school district really doesn't want the court to take this case," says Taub. "They want to try to make the case go away."