- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 21, 2022

The former high school football coach who won a Supreme Court case in June is still trying to get his job back in the Washington state school district that ousted him for praying on the field.

Joseph Kennedy and the Bremerton School District have exchanged emails via attorneys to iron out the details of his return, but have not been able to wrap up the litigation — or even meet as required by a federal judge.

U.S. District Judge Robert S. Lasnik said the two sides must meet face to face — or at least have a phone call — to settle the timing of Mr. Kennedy’s reinstatement “and the details of the order requiring an accommodation for his exercise of his First Amendment rights.”

Judge Lasnik said in the Aug. 26 order that their meeting must take place within 60 days.

“It doesn’t make any sense at all how this is going forward. We were hoping very much — and partly at coach’s direction — to lower the temperature here,” said Jeremy Dys, senior counsel at the conservative legal nonprofit First Liberty Institute, which represented Mr. Kennedy. “It shouldn’t be controversial at all. It’s just a matter of resolving it.”

“It just seems the school district is engaging in bad faith through this entire process,” Mr. Dys said. “They would rather fight and die in a courtroom than to meet and work things out.”

Lawyers for the Bremerton School District this week said Mr. Kennedy has had his job paperwork for more than a month, but they haven’t heard from him.

“On August 8, the District sent Mr. Kennedy’s lawyers all the required onboarding documents for District coaches and other employees, and the District invited Mr. Kennedy to reach out to a designated District staff member for assistance if he needed it. We had assumed that he would do his part and be back on the field when practices started on August 17. To date, the District has not received any of the necessary paperwork,” their statement reads.

The attorneys’ statement also said a closed-door meeting, as requested by Mr. Kennedy’s lawyers, doesn’t work for a public school district.

“Despite the District’s ongoing efforts to get Mr. Kennedy back on the field and resolve the case, his lawyers insist on a closed-door meeting. But the District is a public body; it can’t do backroom deals to compromise the rights of its students, families, and staff. Nor can it spend public money without knowing what it actually and reasonably owes. The school board must conduct its business where the public can see it,” the statement reads.

Mr. Dys said more has to be discussed than paperwork, such as which team Mr. Kennedy will coach and the timing of his return — which he says should be next spring.

“You are basically halfway through the season already. It would be really disruptive to the kids for him to just parachute in,” he said.

He also added that he was surprised by the district’s response regarding a “closed door” meeting.

“We are shocked they are suggesting they intend to violate the court’s order to meet,” Mr. Dys told The Washington Times. 

And attorneys fees have to be settled.

Mr. Kennedy fought a seven-year legal battle to get his job back after being ousted for praying on the 50-yard line. But as players have returned to the field for a new season this year, he‘s yet to return to the sidelines.

The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in June for the coach, who was put on leave after he prayed at the 50-yard line immediately after games. The court’s conservative majority said in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District that a government can’t punish someone for personal, private religious expression.

• Alex Swoyer can be reached at aswoyer@washingtontimes.com.

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