Bremerton School Board Approves Settlement With Coach Over On-Field Prayer


The Bremerton School Board voted Thursday to accept a nearly $2 million settlement with Joseph Kennedy, a high school assistant football coach who was placed on leave in 2015 for praying on the field with players.

The unanimous approval by the five-member board comes after the Bremerton School District announced Kennedy would resume his old coaching role and return to the sidelines for the upcoming football season.

The district said last week it had reach an agreement to settle a claim for Kennedy's attorney fees for $1,775,000.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last June that Kennedy's prayer fell under his First Amendment rights to free speech and free exercise of religion. After the decision, Washington's Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction said the ruling affirms that school employees can engage in individual prayer as long as there's no expectation that others join and the prayer is not part of official duties.

Kennedy, who started coaching at Bremerton High School in 2008, initially prayed alone on the 50-yard line at the end of games. But students and players soon joined him, and he began giving talks with religious references.

The district asked him to stop. 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 his job.

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.