High School Football Coach Scores Another Touchdown for the First Amendment

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File

It’s always nice to see a story about liberty winning, for a change.

Former Seattle high school football coach Joseph Kennedy, who lost his job for leading students in midfield prayers after games, will receive a $1.7 million settlement to cover attorneys’ fees and get his job back next season, according to reports. Kennedy’s prayer groups were protected by the First Amendment, in the U.S. Supreme Court’s split decision last June.


In 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Kennedy, a former coach at Bremerton High School in Washington state, had the right to lead student prayers on the 50-yard line after games. The decision was based on Kennedy’s First Amendment rights to free speech and free exercise of religion. The ruling affirmed that school employees can engage in individual prayer, as long as there is no expectation that others join and the prayer is not part of official duties.

The Seattle Times reported:

Kennedy, who began coaching at Bremerton High School in 2008, started praying alone on the 50-yard line at the end of games. However, students and players soon joined him, and he began giving talks with religious references. The district asked him to stop, but Kennedy and district officials disagreed about whether he complied. He was put on administrative leave at the end of the 2015 season, and a school official recommended against renewing his contract. Kennedy did not reapply for the job.

Despite the fact that he didn’t reapply for his old job, the Bremerton school board unanimously voted last week to accept the nearly $2 million settlement, with the district stating on its website that “Mr. Kennedy will be an assistant football coach for Bremerton High School for the 2023 season.”


The district will pay his attorneys in interest-free installments over three fiscal years. Kennedy began giving talks with religious references, leading the public school district to ask him to stop and eventually suspend him in 2015. Kennedy’s attorneys took the case to the Supreme Court, where the court’s six conservative justices overturned several lower court decisions and sided with Kennedy.

From the Seattle Times:

Kennedy has completed human resources paperwork, according to the district. The School Board will approve football coach contracts on Aug. 3, and Kennedy will be included in coaching staff communications and begin coaching in mid-August, the district said.

“We are thrilled that Bremerton and Coach Kennedy are back together and we hope they go undefeated,” Hiram Sasser, executive general counsel at First Liberty Institute, the legal organization that represented Kennedy, previously said in a statement.

It is often tempting to think that the rise of authoritarianism in the United States is impossible to defeat. For liberty-minded folks, in particular, the situation always looks dire – and reasonably so. But these people are not invincible nor are they all-powerful. They can be defeated, and this story is yet another piece of proof showing that liberty can triumph if people are willing to fight for it.

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