Case of Bremerton coach fired for praying with players heard in court

SEATTLE — An attorney made the case for a Bremerton High School football coach, who lost his job for praying with students, in court on Monday.

Joe Kennedy got into trouble for praying at mid-field after high school football games in 2015.The school district warned Kennedy to stop and he initially followed the order.

But after an October game, he defiantly went to mid-field and knelt in prayer again, and was quickly joined by his players.

Kennedy made national headlines.

"I kind of made an agreement to God before I started coaching that I'm going to pray and give God the glory, and thank you for these guys after the game,” Kennedy said in 2015.

After the October game, the district placed Kennedy on paid leave and didn't renew his contract for the next season.

Kennedy filed a federal religious liberty lawsuit, claiming the district wrongfully retaliated against him for violating a ban on praying on the field.

Kennedy was in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Seattle Monday as his attorney made his case, while a lawyer for the Bremerton School District argued the firing wasn't religious discrimination.

The case ended up in the court of appeals because a lower court denied Kennedy's claim to be reinstated as a coach after he was placed on leave for violating the district's order.

But Kennedy says his lawsuit isn't about money.  He just wants his job back.

At one point during the oral arguments Monday, one of the judges on the three-judge panel asked Kennedy's attorney if a Muslim coach were to walk out to middle field with a rug and kneeled and prayed to Mecca, would the district’s stance violate the coach’s right to religious expression? He said, "Absolutely. Yes."