Washington State Football Coach Joe Kennedy Defies School District to Hold Traditional Postgame Prayer With Team

SCREENSHOT Football coach Joe Kennedy speaking on ABC News
Football coach Joe Kennedy speaking on ABC News

A huge crowd joins in a show of support for a Bremerton assistant coach, who conducted his traditional postgame prayer in defiance of orders from school district officials.

Surrounded by members of his team, players from the rival Centralia High School and scores of supporters from Kitsap County and beyond, Bremerton High assistant coach Joe Kennedy knelt on the 50-yard line after Friday night’s game and prayed.

It was some version of the basic prayer he’s said for years, he said afterward.

“Lord, I thank you for these kids and the blessing you’ve given me with them. We believe in the game, we believe in competition and we can come into it as rivals and leave as brothers.”

He said he never intended to become part of the controversy surrounding his postgame prayers, but had to stand up for his right to practice his faith when challenged by the school district.

“I always taught my kids to do what’s right … and fight for what you believe in.”

The school district says Kennedy must stop his prayers, which it says violate the separation of church and state. Lawyers representing the coach say his right to religious freedom is being violated by the district’s rules.

Numerous people at the school homecoming game came to support Kennedy and his longstanding practice of kneeling and praying at the 50-yard line after games, often among a crowd of players and other coaches.

Kennedy initially agreed to stop his postgame prayers, but earlier this week said he changed his mind after the Texas-based Liberty Institute took up his cause.

Andy Lancaster of Silverdale came to his first football game at Bremerton High on Friday to pray with Kennedy after the game.

“I’m here because I can’t stand ACLU bullies,” he said.

Gordy Byrd, who attended Bremerton’s East High School years ago, said he hadn’t been at a high-school game in 40 years but he, too, came to pray with Kennedy.

State Rep. Jesse Young, R-Gig Harbor, stood next to Kennedy in support throughout the game.

The controversy has played out in public since the district told Kennedy last month to stop his postgame prayers.

Cory Flournoy, 17, a senior who was filming the game for his media class, said students are “sick and absolutely tired of it all.”

“It’s ridiculous that he got in trouble at all,” he said. “The students basically support the coach regardless of their religious beliefs,” Flournoy said.

“It isn’t a big deal at all,” said Brandon Chavez, who played football with the team as a freshman. “I prayed because I’m Catholic, but some walked off. There was never any pressure.”

Brady Beaton, Class of 2013, also said he prayed with the team and said he wondered how it ever “became a thing.”

“They’re making a big deal out of nothing,” Beaton said.

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SOURCE: The Seattle Times
Christine Clarridge