Case Timeline:

Coach Joe Kennedy

High school football Coach Joe Kennedy was fired for taking a knee and offering a brief, quiet prayer after football games. The following timeline highlights the key moments in his journey. To read Coach Kennedy’s full story, view press releases, and access legal documents, visit FirstLiberty.org/coachkennedy.

2008

Coach Joe Kennedy | First Liberty

Fall 2008

Coach Kennedy Starts Coaching and Praying

Coach Kennedy becomes a Bremerton High School football coach and begins his tradition of taking a knee and offering a brief, quiet, personal prayer of 15-30 seconds at the conclusion of games.

Coach Joe Kennedy | First Liberty

Fall 2008

“It’s a free country”

Players ask if they can join Coach Kennedy as he kneels in prayer; Coach Kennedy says it’s a “free county” and they can “do what [they] want”.

2015

Coach Joe Kennedy | Bremerton | First Liberty

Early September 2015

A Compliment Gets the School District’s Attention

An opposing team’s coach compliments the Bremerton High School principal on Coach Kennedy’s practice.

Coach Joe Kennedy | School District Investigation | First Liberty

September 17, 2015

School District Launches Investigation and Issues Instructions

Bremerton School District (BSD) conducts a fact-finding investigation, then sends Coach Kennedy a letter recognizing that students had participated voluntarily in Coach Kennedy’s post-game religious expression and acknowledging that Coach Kennedy had “not actively encouraged, or required, participation.” However, the District says Coach Kennedy must keep his prayers “physically separate from any student activity.”

Coach Kennedy | Coach Complies with District Request | First Liberty

September 17, 2015

Coach Kennedy Complies with District Requests

Coach Kennedy immediately ceases praying with students.

Coach Kennedy | Religious Accommodation Request | First Liberty

October 14, 2015

Coach Kennedy Requests Religious Accommodation

Coach Kennedy, through counsel, sends a letter to BSD requesting a religious accommodation to kneel and say a brief, quiet, personal prayer on the field after football games conclude.

Coach Kennedy | Bremerton Field | First Liberty

October 16, 2015

A Quiet Prayer

After the October 16 evening football game, Coach Kennedy kneels alone to offer a brief, quiet prayer of thanks; some players from the opposing team join him.

Coach Kennedy | Prayer Issue Change | First Liberty

October 21, 2015

“The issue…has shifted…to a coaches [sic] right to conduct a personal, private prayer…”

On October 21, the BSD Superintendent sends an email saying the issue in question has shifted from a coach “leading prayer with student athletes” to “a coaches [sic] right to conduct a personal, private prayer”. On October 21, Coach Kennedy–after extensive communication between the parties–offers to meet with the school district to find a solution, but the district declines.

Coach Kennedy | BSD Email 10-23-16 | First Liberty

October 23, 2015

A Sweeping New Ban

BSD sends a letter emphasizing its appreciation for Coach Kennedy’s efforts to comply with the September 17 letter’s directives and acknowledges that his religious exercise was “fleeting.” BSD then announces a new ban on any employee engaging in any “demonstrative religious activity” that is “readily observable to…students and the attending public”; offers to “accommodate” Coach Kennedy by having him pray in secret in a location such as the “press box”.

Coach Kennedy | Silent Prayer 10-23-2016 | First Liberty

October 23, 2015

A Brief, Quiet, Personal Prayer

After the conclusion of the October 23 evening football game, Coach Kennedy kneels alone to offer a brief, quiet, personal prayer of thanks.

Coach Kennedy | BSD Email 10-26-2016 | First Liberty

October 26, 2015

“Closer to What We Want”

BHS says Coach Kennedy’s brief, solitary prayer “moved closer to what we want,” but is “still unconstitutional.”

Coach Kennedy | Silent Prayer 10-26-2016 | First Liberty

October 26, 2015

A Brief, Quiet, Personal Prayer

After the conclusion of the October 26 evening football game, Coach Kennedy kneels alone to offer a brief, quiet, personal prayer of thanks.

Coach Kennedy | BSD Suspension Letter | First Liberty

October 28, 2015

District Suspends Coach Kennedy

The district suspends Coach Kennedy for his practice of “kneel[ing] on the field and pray[ing]” immediately following football games.

Coach Kennedy | District Admits Kennedy Complied | First Liberty

October 28, 2015

District Admits Coach Kennedy Did Not Coerce Any Students

On the same day, the district posts a Q&A document online admitting that the district found ‘no evidence that students have been directly coerced to pray with Kennedy’ and that ‘Mr. Kennedy has complied with [BSD’s] directives not to intentionally involve students in his on-duty religious activities.’

Bremerton ISD - Do Not Rehire | Coach Kennedy | First Liberty

November 20, 2015

District Fires Coach Kennedy

BSD places “Do Not Rehire…” recommendation in Coach Kennedy’s annual coaching evaluation. As a result, Coach Kennedy is fired from his job as a football coach at Bremerton High School with no chance of being rehired for the next season.

Coach Kennedy | EEOC Complaint | First Liberty

December 15, 2015

Coach Kennedy Files EEOC Complaint

Coach Kennedy files a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging that BSD violated his rights to free exercise of religion and free speech.

2016

Coach Kennedy | EEOC Right to Sue Letter | First Liberty

June 27, 2016

EEOC Issues Right-to-Sue Letter to Coach Kennedy

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issues a letter to Coach Kennedy granting him a right to sue Bremerton School District over his allegations of civil rights violations.

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