Today lawyers from Liberty Institute filed a federal complaint on behalf of Coach Joe Kennedy against Bremerton School District, beginning the legal challenge to restore the coach’s free speech and religious liberty rights to pray at football games.
Updating Breitbart News’s earlier report about Coach Kennedy, a former U.S. Marine who coaches football at Bremerton High School in Washington state. For seven years, he’s quietly prayed at the 50-yard line after each game to give thanks for the students. Over the years students from both teams have voluntarily walked out to join him.
When Bremerton School District found out, school officials ordered the coach never again to say anything religious in public on school grounds, or show any sign of his faith, such as bowing his head in silence or wearing a cross. (This policy covers other faiths as well, so a Jewish coach could not wear a yarmulke.) Liberty Institute then contacted the coach, and is representing him free of charge.
The school rejected Liberty Institute’s request to discuss the matter and search for some way to accommodate the coach’s faith. When school officials saw the coach praying at the following game, they suspended him from coaching.
The Dec. 15 complaint was filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), arguing that Bremerton School District is discriminating against Coach Kennedy for expressing his Christian faith, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In the EEOC complaint, Coach Kennedy alleges, “[Bremerton School District] violated my rights to free exercise of religion and free speech by prohibiting my private religious expression.”
Michael Berry, a Liberty Institute lawyer on the case, said in a statement to Breitbart News, “All we are asking is for Coach Kennedy to be allowed to pray alone—silently and briefly—at the 50-yard line after the game.”
The international law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher has partnered with Liberty Institute to represent the coach pro bono. “We hope the EEOC takes this charge of religious discrimination seriously,” lead counsel Rebekah Ricketts said in the statement. “We fully expect that Coach Kennedy’s First Amendment rights will be vindicated.”
Filing the EEOC complaint is the last step required by law before filing a federal lawsuit to assert Coach Kennedy’s rights.