Dori: ‘I’ve got faith’ – despite other reports, praying coach says he’s ready to start talks to get his job back
Despite an early summer U.S. Supreme Court ruling that former Bremerton High School football coach Joe Kennedy was improperly fired for post-game prayers that attracted players, the school district has not agreed to meet with Kennedy about reinstatement after this fall season, according to the coach and his attorney.
Kennedy told Dori Monson Show listeners that he “wants to get back to being a coach” and that a story in The Seattle Times was inaccurate in reporting that he is too busy with speaking engagements and public appearances to coach this season.
The newspaper did not reach out to him for his side of the story, Kennedy told Dori. Further, he added, district officials have either ignored or rebuffed his repeated attempts to meet face-to-face to work out the details of his return.
“That is my ultimate prayer: to get the start in spring ball,” Kennedy said. “I just want to get back and I don’t want to disrupt in the middle of a season.”
The case boiled down to whether Kennedy’s actions violated the religious and free speech rights of teachers and coaches – or whether it compromised the rights of students not to feel pressured into joining religious practices.
In late June, the high court ruled 6-3 that Kennedy’s practice of post-game praying was a “private religious exercise (that) did not come close to crossing any line one might imagine separating protected private expression from impermissible government coercion,” according to the decision written by Justice Neil Gorsuch.
Bremerton School District officials argued that when they released Kennedy from his job, it was out of fear that players would feel coerced to join the coach and that the district could be sued for violating students’ religious rights.
After the high court’s ruling, it ordered the two sides to negotiate the fine details of Kennedy’s potential reinstatement via a federal court in Seattle. But Kennedy and one of his attorneys, Jeremy Dys, told Dori that the district is refusing to meet with them.
“We called almost immediately (after the June decision,)” according to Dys, a senior counsel with First Liberty Institute. “After we didn’t get a response, we emailed on July 11 and said `let’s sit down for a face-to-face meeting.’”
Further emails on Aug. 4 and Aug. 8 were rebuffed when the district wrote back saying, “we don’t think there’s any point in having a face-to-face,’’ Dys said.
Dys believes it is his team’s belief that the high court’s ruling requires the district to designate a school district representative “with full authority to enter into (talks) or at least a telephone call.”
No one from Bremerton School District has reached back since they initiated those communications, Dys said.
Meanwhile, Kennedy said, it has always been his intent to return to a coaching job next season because it makes more sense. He said he wants “to be able to talk to the district and the coaches.” Starting reinstatement this season would be unfair to the players, coaching staff, and community, he added.
“Talk about pressure on him (if I started this fall),” said the former assistant varsity coach for defense, special teams, team-building, and leadership. “He (the head coach) doesn’t need a headache like me in the middle of the season.”
What are the odds you’re going to get your job back? Dori asked.
“I’d say 100%,” Kennedy responded. His attorney agreed.
“I don’t think they have any other leg to stand on,” Dys said. “The question is, how do they take him back? The court has required them to do so. Why would they go to The Seattle Times and not talk to us? We’re happy to resolve all the remaining issues.”
“I’ve got faith in God that He will work it out exactly the way it should be,” Kennedy said.
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