By Lauren Matyear
Assistant football coach at Bremerton High, Joe Kennedy, has been put on paid administrative leave for failing to discontinue his prayer practices on the football field. Kennedy came under fire recently for openly holding prayer at midfield at the close of every football game, bringing the issue of religious rights into the political forefront.
According to the Bremerton school district, students and student athletes may feel obligated to take part in prayer and other religious rituals when they are being led or performed by their coaches. Despite these warnings, Kennedy has continued to attend games in support of his team and in defense of his practices.
Kennedy expressed to media outlets that the situation has been painful, especially with the restrictions that he is facing in interacting with his team. However, the coach said that he will continue to stand up for what he believes in and push back against those who are attempting to stifle his faith.
Senior class president, Abe Bartlett, decided to take action in defense of Kennedy and to get some clarity on the school district’s policy on religion. As part of Bartlett’s plan of action, he took self-proclaimed Satanists to watch the football game on Thursday. Bartlett claimed that he did this to get answers and to force the district to take a clear stance on religion in their institutions. He wants to see religious practices banned altogether if permission to practice religion openly and freely cannot be granted. No middle ground is acceptable for Bartlett.
Kennedy’s Facebook page features people wearing shirts that say “praying coach.” Far from showing signs of backing down on this issue, he is carrying it fervently into his personal and social life.
Kennedy’s end-of-game prayer rituals are not required for students, though some choose to take part in them. He typically spends no more than twenty seconds on one knee in prayer at the midfield after shaking the hands of the other school’s coaches.
Coach Kennedy has not been terminated from his position with the school, but he is prohibited from getting involved with any football activities as a coach. He is allowed to attend the games with the public audience, and while he wasn’t mocked for being at the game on Thursday, the Satanists were.
The current status remains the same. Coach Kennedy has been put on leave and his prayer on the field and involvement with the football team has been banned.