Will Bremerton coach’s complaint lead into a courtroom battle?

Dec 15, 2015, 5:27 PM | Updated: Dec 16, 2015, 5:49 am
Former Bremerton coach Joe Kennedy was fired for leading post-game prayers. Now a state lawmaker is trying to legalize prayer on school ground after the day is over. (AP)

Bremerton football coach Joe Kennedy is back. This time, he has raised up from his knee, and walked into the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to file a complaint, arguing that his freedom to express his religion has been violated.

It’s the next step in what has become an ongoing battle between a praying football coach and a school district straddling the line between church and state.

Kennedy claimed a range of media headlines when he refused to stop praying with football players after games in his position as a Bremerton High School football coach. The school district asked him to refrain from doing so as it violates the constitution. The district has since opted not to renew its contract with the coach.

A complaint submitted to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is generally a precursor for an actual lawsuit, but Kennedy’s attorney Mike Berry, with Liberty Institute, told KIRO Radio’s Jason Rantz that they’ll wait on the EEOC’s decision, and the school district’s response, before moving forward with any litigation.

Related: Bremerton coach files religious discrimination against district over 50-yard-line prayers

“The EEOC certainly is going to have the opportunity to investigate and we hope that they will take this case seriously, as they should take with any case with religious discrimination,” Berry said. “And we’re hopeful that there will be a positive outcome without having to go any further.”

“In fact, I’ve offered to meet with Bremerton School District officials on multiple occasions in the hopes that we could resolve it without even having to do an EEOC complaint,” he said. “Unfortunately, they never agreed to meet with me, so really they’re the ones that have forced us into this position because we were never able to meet with them. We weren’t able to sit down like adults, face-to-face, and try to resolve this and so this is now where we are.”

Berry said he hopes EEOC will come to its conclusion in a relatively efficient time.

“Obviously, the most important thing that we want to get out of this is for Coach Kennedy to be reinstated as a football coach so he can get back to the business of mentoring these young men,” he said.

Berry told Rantz that much of the EEOC’s decision will be contingent on deciding whether Kennedy being a private citizen versus a school representative.

“Clearly, we’re asking for him to be able to do this in his private capacity,” Berry said. “…If you were to characterize what he does, it’s really a moment of silence. Nobody can hear him and he’s choosing to do it in a manner and a time when the students aren’t around.”

But Rantz noted that just because the game is over, doesn’t mean Kennedy ceases being a coach.

“You still have students there, you still have parents in the stands,” Rantz said. “The coach can say to a kid, ‘you did a really good job, sport.’ You’re still acting as a coach. So where do you draw the line as far as school representative or school employee verses I no longer represent anyone but myself?”

Berry told Rantz that Kennedy is asking the school for a religious accommodation.

“We encounter this all the time in public life,” he said. “In fact, there were two cases recently taken up by the EEOC dealing with these accommodations.”

One, he said, involves a Muslim Abercrombie & Fitch employee who was not allowed to wear a head covering while at work. While there may be no Biblical basis in Christianity that suggests prayer on a 50-yard-line is a part of the religion, Berry says that’s not the point.

“That’s not for the school district to decide,” he said. “That would be entirely inappropriate for a school district to begin dictating to people of faith what is or is not a significant part of their religious beliefs.”

Coach said, when he was hired, he made an agreement with God that he would give Him the glory after every game. He believes it’s his right and an American and Christian to pray where he pleases.

“As an American, people should not have to hide their faith just because of where they work and what somebody else might or might not think,” he said. “That’s not what I thought America was about.”

Rantz asked whether this case would be different if Kennedy were a different religion. Berry said he hopes not, but that the EEOC complaint includes the Liberty Institutes own investigation that found other employees of the football team of other faiths were engaging in religious expression without being treated the way Kennedy has been.

“I think that’s pretty telling,” he said. “I would add that our position at Liberty Institute, however, is that religious freedom means religious freedom for all Americans of all faiths. Those other employees and coaches are certainly entitled…and it’s just a shame that the school district has decided to pick on Coach Kennedy as their target.”

MyNorthwest’s Richard D. Oxley contributed to this article.

Jason Rantz on AM 770 KTTH
  • listen to jason rantzTune in to AM 770 KTTH weekdays at 3-6pm toThe Jason Rantz Show.

Jason Rantz Show

Jason Rantz

Bothell Mayor...
KTTH staff

Former Bothell mayor cautions ‘defund the police’ is on November ballot

Former Bothell Mayor Mark Lamb breaks down November's municipal elections, and why the city has to mobilize against 'defund the police.'
1 day ago
Kathy Lambert...
KTTH staff

Councilmember Kathy Lambert decries recent demotion as ‘unacceptable, dirty politics’

In a KTTH interview, King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert explicates her belief that she's being silenced over her political positions.
3 days ago
Jason Rantz

Rantz: Seattle school cancels Halloween over ‘equity,’ says Black kids don’t celebrate

A Seattle school canceled a Halloween parade because they don't think Black males celebrate the secular holiday.
4 days ago
tahoma, TikTok...
Jason Rantz

Rantz: School equity leader out after racist and vulgar TikTok videos spread

A local school district's equity team leader is no longer in her role after parents discovered her racist and vulgar TikTok videos.
5 days ago
Tina Podlodowski...
Jason Rantz

Rantz: Whoa! WA Dems chair Tina Podlodowski voted for Donald Trump twice?

Did WA Democrats chair Tina Podlowdowski twice vote for Donald Trump? Shocking, if true!
6 days ago
long-term care tax...
KTTH staff

State lawmaker calls for halt on new long-term care tax, claims ‘it’s not set up to work’

State lawmakers are fighting back against a long-term care tax, claiming the law has inconsistencies that must be addressed before it can proceed.
8 days ago

Sponsored Articles


How to Have a Stress-Free Real Estate Experience

The real estate industry has adapted and sellers are taking full advantage of new real estate models. One of which is Every Door Real Estate.
IQ Air

How Poor Air Quality Is Affecting Our Future Athletes

You cannot control your child’s breathing environment 100% of the time, but you can make a huge impact.
Swedish Health Services

Special Coverage: National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

There are a wide variety of treatment options available for men with prostate cancer. The most technologically advanced treatment option in the Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform.
Marysville Police Department

Police Opportunities in a Growing, Supportive Washington Community

Marysville PD is looking for both lateral and entry level officers. Begin or continue your career in law enforcement for a growing, supportive community.

Small, Minority-Owned Businesses in King County and Pierce County Can Now Apply For $10,000 Relief Grants Through Comcast RISE

Businesses in King County and Pierce County can apply beginning on October 1, 2021, at www.ComcastRISE.com for a chance to receive a $10,000 relief grant.
Courtesy of JWatch Photography....
Experience Anacortes

Summer Fun Activities in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.
Will Bremerton coach’s complaint lead into a courtroom battle?