After sudden resignation, Coach Kennedy might not be done with Bremerton High

After sudden resignation, Coach Kennedy might not be done with Bremerton High

After sudden resignation, Coach Kennedy might not be done with Bremerton High

After years of court battles and a ruling from the nation's highest court, Coach Joe Kennedy’s return to Bremerton Knights football was incredibly brief. A questionable school policy restricting his First Amendment rights might be a clue to his departure.

The assistant football coach resigned Wednesday, days after last Friday’s season opener when he prayed after the game on the 50-yard line. 

The resignation is pending and will be discussed this evening, September 7,  at the regularly scheduled meeting of the Bremerton School District board.

Kennedy prayed on the field Sept. 1 following the Knights’ 27-12 win over Mount Douglas, but restrictions that were placed on the coach were hinted at by Kennedy’s attorney, Hiram Sasser, of First Liberty Institute.

“We have come to learn of serious allegations of retaliation against Coach Kennedy by the Bremerton School District. They’ve done everything they can to make him feel unwelcome. We are going to investigate the situation to determine whether further legal action is necessary,” Sasser said in a statement provided to American Family News.

In an subsequent interview with AFN, First Liberty attorney Mike Berry said the attorneys learned their longtime client was openly shunned and humiliated by Bremerton High. Kennedy was not issued a Knights football shirt for football games, or even given a locker, like other coaches. 

"[Kennedy] was not even invited to the pre-game meal with the other coaches," Berry alleges. "He was excluded from that, and even the head coach even told the players to stay away from him."

The district on its website confirmed its receipt of Kennedy’s resignation notice in a brief statement Wednesday.

“The district does not comment on personnel matters, so we will not be issuing any further statements,” it said.

Kennedy himself did not directly address retaliation by the district in a statement posted to the website CoachJoeKennedy.com.

The coach's personal statement mentioned “multiple reasons” for his resignation, one being to help care for an ailing family member, his father-in-law, in Florida.

“I believe I can best continue to advocate for Constitutional freedom and religious liberty by working from outside the school system, so that is what I will do," Kennedy wrote. "I will continue to work to help people understand and embrace the historic ruling at the heart of our case. As a result of our case, we all have more freedom, not less. That should be celebrated and not disrespected." 

In June of 2022 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that the school district was wrong for firing Kennedy because he knelt to pray at midfield after games. Students were never required to participate, and Kennedy was not leading them in prayer, which are both legal issues courts have dealt with going back decades.

“He offered prayers quietly while his students were otherwise occupied. Still, the Bremerton School District disciplined him anyway. It did so because it thought anything less could lead a reasonable observer to conclude (mistakenly) that it endorsed Mr. Kennedy’s religious beliefs. The reasoning was misguided,” wrote Justice Neil Gorsuch in the Court’s opinion.

The district was required to pay $1,775,000 in attorney fees, according to its website, which could also make  the coach a target for retribution. 

Coach Kennedy becomes 'private citizen' 

As preseason practice began in mid-August, the district addressed Kennedy’s return.

“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,” it wrote. “The district remains steadfast in its commitment to respecting the rights and religious freedom of students, families and school staff and to keeping football games and all school events safe for the students we serve.”

Instead, the district’s response to the Court’s decision has been to accommodate Kennedy in an environment far different than simply taking a knee at the end of games as he had done previously.

The district now has what it calls “updated” procedures to “satisfy obligations to protect the religious freedom of all of our students and their families as well as all district employees.”

Under the new policy, outlined on the school district website, Coach Kennedy is not allowed to immediately pray on the football field after ball games but is "free to return" later. The policy reads that Kennedy would have to first complete all “coaching/supervisory responsibilities," which was estimated to take 30 minutes. 

Once all participants have left the field, and all equipment has been put away, the track and field are made open to the public, the policy states. 

“After Mr. Kennedy has completed his coaching/supervisory responsibilities (approximately 30 minutes after the game) thus acting as a private citizen, he is free to return to the field,” the district writes.

It is not clear if Kennedy knew about that policy when he prayed immediately after Friday's game. 

The policy also states the stadium lights will remain on until all fans have left the stadium, which implies they will be turned off before that track and field are locked at 11:59 p.m.

A lot of effort for not a lot of money

Kennedy accepted a job as an assistant football coach in 2008, a part-time job that was to pay him $5,304 for this school year. The team has five other assistant coaches this season.

Kennedy is not a certified teacher and has never worked for the district in a capacity other than assistant football coach, according to the district’s website.

Kennedy’s eight-year fight to regain his job was accomplished but before last Friday’s game he appeared to have reservations about how long he would remain at Bremerton High. 

In an interview with The Associated Press he said, “We’ll make some decisions of what’s next in our life, because it’s obviously not going to be football forever. We’d like to do – I don’t know – maybe some ministry or something.”

Berry, Michael (First Liberty) Berry

The field was nearly empty when Kennedy prayed alone last week, The AP reported.

“Knowing that everybody’s expecting me to go do this kind of gives me a lot of angst in my stomach,” he said.

"I do not think anybody would want to be a coach in a place where all the other coaches and the administration is telling you they do not want you there," concludes Berry, the First Liberty attorney.  "And that they are going to do everything they can to make your life miserable. So I think Coach felt he really had no choice."

Even if Coach Kennedy is gone for good, Berry tells AFN the law firm is investigating his alleged treatment in light of the Supreme Court ruling. Further legal action is not out of the question, he says.