Bremerton school board reaches nearly $2M settlement with praying football coach Joe Kennedy

The Bremerton School Board accepted a nearly $2 million settlement with Joe Kennedy, who was fired for praying on the field. Kennedy is also being reinstated as a high school football coach.

Joseph Kennedy's case about his firing made it all the way up to the Supreme Court -- with the court ruling 6-3 in favor of the coach getting his job back. In an August 2022 ruling, the justices said Kennedy's right to pray on the field was protected by the First Amendment.

In October 2022, a court filing stated that the Bremerton School District must hire him back by March 2023.

"Mr. Kennedy will be an assistant football coach for Bremerton High School for the 2023 season. Mr. Kennedy has completed human resources paperwork and we are awaiting the results of his fingerprinting and background check. Mr. Kennedy will need to complete all training required by WIAA," the district said on its website on March 6.

On March 6, the district announced it reached an agreement to settle Kennedy's attorney fees for $1,775,000. The settlement will be presented to the school board on March 16, where they need to approve it.

"As with any other assistant coach, Mr. Kennedy will be included in coaching staff communication and meetings, spring football practice and other off-season football activities," the district said on its website.


Kennedy, a Christian, was a former football coach at Bremerton High School in Bremerton, Washington. He started coaching at the school in 2008 and initially prayed alone on the 50-yard line at the end of games. Students started joining him, and over time he began to deliver a short, inspirational talk with religious references. Kennedy did that for years and also led students in locker room prayers. The school district learned what he was doing in 2015 and asked him to stop.

Kennedy stopped leading students in prayer in the locker room and on the field but wanted to continue praying on the field himself, with students free to join if they wished. Concerned about being sued for violating students’ religious freedom rights, the school asked him to stop his practice of kneeling and praying while still "on duty" as a coach after the game. When he continued to kneel and pray on the field, the school put him on paid leave.


Supreme Court sides with Bremerton football coach who wanted to pray on the field

The Supreme Court said Monday that it has sided with the former Bremerton, Washington football coach who sought to kneel and pray on the field after games, a decision that could strengthen the acceptability of some religious practices in other public school settings.

The district then fired him from his position.

After Kennedy's firing, the case made its way through local, state, and the Supreme Court.