SEATTLE, AP — A Washington state high school football coach who returned to his job after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled he could pray on the field quit Wednesday after just a return game.
Bremerton High School assistant coach Joe Kennedy made the announcement on his website, citing several reasons, including caring for an ailing family member out of state. He lived full-time in Florida, and before Game 1 last Friday, he said he didn’t know if he would continue coaching.
“I believe I can best continue to defend constitutional freedom and religious liberty by working outside of the school system, so that is what I will do,” Kennedy wrote. “I will continue to work to help people understand and embrace the historic decision at the heart of our case. »
Kennedy was not immediately available for comment on Wednesday. His publicist, Jennifer Willingham, told The Associated Press that he was on a plane to return to Florida.
In a statement, the Bremerton School District confirmed that Kennedy had tendered his resignation. School officials declined to comment on his departure, calling it a personnel matter.
Kennedy lost his job in 2015 and fought a seven-year legal battle to get it back.
School district officials had asked him to keep any prayers on the field undemonstratively or away from students, saying they feared tolerating his public postgame prayers would suggest endorsement of religion by the government, in violation of the separation of church and state.
He insisted on publicly praying in midfield after games, and the district furloughed him and refused to renew his contract.
Last year, the conservative majority of the United States Supreme Court sided with him, Justice Neil Gorsuch writing that “the best of our traditions advocates mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and repression, both for religious and non-religious opinions”.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a nonprofit that represented the school district in the case, argued that the Supreme Court should have dismissed the case as moot because Kennedy no longer lived in Bremerton and did not inform the court of his decision. Moving 3,000 miles (4,800 kilometers) to Florida.
“The fact that Kennedy doesn’t want to coach in the Bremerton School District is no surprise,” said Rachel Laser, the group’s general manager. “This is just one more example of why the Supreme Court should not have taken up this case in the first place.”
Kennedy was back on the sidelines for the first time in nearly eight years last Friday night, but he had previously said he had mixed feelings about it and wasn’t sure whether to continue coaching .
“Knowing that everyone expects me to do this sort of thing gives me a lot of angst in my stomach,” Kennedy told the AP. “People are going to freak out about me bringing God back to public schools.”
After the game – a 27-12 win over Mount Douglas High School – Kennedy walked into midfield alone, then knelt and prayed for about 10 seconds.
Kennedy was not joined by any athletes or others on the nearly empty field. There was scattered applause from the modest crowd.
Kennedy’s fight to get his job has become a cultural touchstone, pitting the religious freedoms of government employees against longstanding principles protecting students from religious coercion. He appeared at a 2016 rally for Donald Trump.
He and his wife recently had dinner with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican presidential candidate who asked for his help during the campaign trail. Kennedy refused, saying he was loyal to Trump.