There’s a new push in Olympia to allow school staff to express religious beliefs on school grounds.
Rep. Jesse Young, R-Gig Harbor, filed a bill this week to support Joe Kennedy, the Bremerton assistant football coach who was let go by the Bremerton School District in 2015 after he refused to stop saying postgame prayers on the field.
Kennedy is currently suing the Bremerton School District in federal court to get his job back.
House Bill 1602 would make it legal for coaches and other school staff to express religious beliefs on school grounds, such as a sports field, provided the school day has ended. The bill would potentially impose penalties of $5,000 to $20,000 on districts that prohibit such prayer.
“This isn't a religious bill that says you must acquiesce to a certain religion or doctrine or prayer,” Young told KIRO 7.
“It simply says we're going to protect the First Amendment rights of every individual and we're going to give schools immunity for doing just that.”
Young isn't the only politician supporting the bill.
Kennedy happened to be at a Virginia campaign event for President Donald Trump in October, when Trump brought up the issue and was told Kennedy wa there. Trump asked him about the situation.
“I didn't change anything for eight years,” said Kennedy.
“Prayed after each game and they slammed me on it and said what a horrible person I was and ended up not renewing my contract, so ultimately firing me.”
Trump then said, “I think that is absolutely outrageous. I think it's outrageous. I think it's very, very sad and outrageous.”
Prayer on school grounds is a long-debated legal topic.
On Friday, KIRO 7 asked Young why he's confident his bill will hold up in court.
“From the constitutional muster, this bill seeks to do two simple things,” said Young.
“No. 1, it defines when a game ends and it gives school districts immunity for coaches to exercise their First Amendment rights after the game has ended. So from that standpoint, those are well within the constitutional boundaries.”
The bill now heads to the House Judiciary Committee, and Young said he's confident it can eventually become law.
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