School District Warns Coach Not To Pray Ahead Of Homecoming Game

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Casey Harper Contributor
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The Washington state school district prohibiting a football coach from praying with his team after games issued a strong warning to the coach just a few hours before the game Friday, saying anything appearing to be an endorsement of religion “cannot be tolerated.”

The warning letter, obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation, comes after Coach Joe Kennedy announced Wednesday he would pray at the 50-yard-line after the Homecoming game Friday night, in spite of Bremerton School District’s demand he cease the practice.

The district investigated Kennedy for praying with players on the 50-yard-line after games, because they saw the action as a possible Constitutional violation. They warned Kennedy to stop the practice, and he initially agreed.

But he announced Wednesday he would ignore the district’s warning and pray with the students after Friday’s game. The district sent a letter to Kennedy Friday afternoon, just hours before the game, saying they do not wish to be exposed to any liability from his actions. Any actions that appear to be an endorsement of religion “cannot be tolerated,” the district said in the letter.

“That is, any overt actions on Mr. Kennedy’s part, appearing to a reasonable observer to endorse even voluntary, student-initiated prayer, while he is on duty as a District-paid coach, would amount to District endorsement of religion in violation of the Establishment Clause,” the letter reads.

“For these reasons, the District affirms the guidance and expectations provided to Mr. Kennedy on September 17, 2015. Given the significant potential liability to which conduct violating those guidelines would expose the District, strict adherence is required and expected, and violations cannot be tolerated.”

Kennedy told TheDCNF Wednesday he believed the school would do the right thing.

“I spent 20 years in the military fighting to defend the Constitution and it didn’t seem right that I wasn’t allowed to say a prayer with my guys after a football game was over,” Kennedy told TheDCNF. “I’m standing up for what I believe is right.”

The district dismissed the argument that after the game, Kennedy is no longer on duty since he still has to supervise the players until they are released to their parents or leave the facilities. And the district made it clear he cannot encourage or lead others in religious activities while on the job.

“The District does not purport to control Mr. Kennedy’s private conduct, including exercise of his religious rights, when he is not on duty for the District,” the letter reads. “The District has worked in good faith with Mr. Kennedy to identify clear guidelines by which he is able to exercise his fundamental religious freedoms, while respecting and avoiding any violation of the constitutional rights of others in the school community.

“The District remains willing to discuss and clarify those expectations,” it continues. “However, it must be understood that the guidelines and directives provided by the District to Mr. Kennedy must be adhered to.”

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Casey Harper