The Supreme Court ruled for the praying football coach. But the fight isn’t over
Attorneys for Joe Kennedy and Bremerton School District have very different ideas about what’s happened since the Supreme Court issued its decision
Reports that Joe Kennedy, the praying football coach who scored a big win in front of the Supreme Court this summer, has chosen a press tour over returning to the football field are inaccurate, according to Jeremy Dys, one of the coach’s attorneys.
In an interview Wednesday with the Deseret News, Dys said Kennedy’s former employer, Bremerton School District in Bremerton, Washington, has refused multiple opportunities to “amicably” wrap-up the case and instead “blasted” the coach in the press.
“They can’t act all agog that Kennedy isn’t there, when they’re actively trying to plant disinformation,” he said. “I don’t understand it at all.”
The Supreme Court decision, handed down on June 27, said Bremerton School District violated the free speech and free exercise clauses of the First Amendment when it refused to let Kennedy pray on the 50-yard line after football games. The six conservative justices who comprised the majority said Kennedy’s prayers did not violate past rulings against teacher-led religious activity in public schools.
“The Constitution and the best of our traditions counsel mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and suppression, for religious and nonreligious views alike,” wrote Justice Neil Gorsuch in the majority opinion.
Dys argued that the school district has been neither respectful nor tolerant this summer. His frustration stems primarily from a Sept. 17 Seattle Times article in which a spokeswoman for Bremerton schools said Kennedy has failed to respond to a new offer of employment.
“He’s had the paperwork for his reinstatement since Aug. 8, and we haven’t gotten so much as a phone call,” said Karen Bevers to the Seattle Times, adding that it’s “odd and awkward.”
Dys acknowledged that such paperwork exists, but said it came before they’d negotiated the conditions of Kennedy’s return and fully resolved the lawsuit. (Once the Supreme Court rules on a case, it’s sent back to the court where it originated for the parties involved to work out details like how much the losing side will put toward attorney’s fees.) The parties still haven’t engaged in those sorts of negotiations, he said.
Sending the reinstatement paperwork in early August represented skipping to “step 8 when they won’t do step 2,” said Dys, senior counsel for First Liberty Institute.
“They sent step 8 without having a conversation. The only conversation they wanted to have was, ‘Here’s the paperwork to fill out to be an employee again,’” he said.
The paperwork won’t matter until there’s a “final order” from a judge laying out how the Supreme Court’s decision will be implemented, Dys added.
Attorneys for the school district, on the other hand, said in a statement that they’ve done everything necessary to rehire Kennedy and resolve the lawsuit.
“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,” they said.
The statement continued, “Contrary to what Mr. Kennedy’s lawyers have said, a closing order isn’t necessary for Mr. Kennedy to be hired as a coach, but it is necessary to conclude the lawsuit. In the normal course of litigation, attorneys trade proposed orders back and forth until they reach an agreement. Mr. Kennedy’s lawyers have yet to respond to the District’s proposal.”
Dys said his team has been focused on securing a face-to-face meeting, while attorneys for the school district characterize that request as part of a push for “backroom deals.”
“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,” their statement said.
The ongoing battle stems from the fact that, as a result of the ruling, Kennedy gained the right to become a Bremerton coach again, an outcome he told the Deseret News he was hoping for in an interview this spring.
“I want to be able to be a coach and thank God after each game,” he said.
Kennedy reiterated his desire to coach again for Bremerton in a Fox News interview in June.
“As soon as the school district says, ‘Hey, come back,’ I am there, first flight,” he said.
The Seattle Times highlighted that June quote in its recent piece, which questioned why Kennedy is not back on the football field this fall. The article noted that the former coach has, instead, been rubbing elbows with conservative celebrities at events across the country.
Dys said Kennedy still wants his coaching job back, but that he’s not going to rush to return before the lawsuit is wrapped up. Legal proceedings are ongoing, and it’s unlikely that the former coach will be back in the locker room before this spring, he said.
In their statement, attorneys for the school district said they’re “eager to abide by the Supreme Court’s ruling” but that they can only do so much if Kennedy’s attorneys won’t respond.
“Whatever Mr. Kennedy or his lawyers may be saying, so far they just aren’t taking any steps to resolve the case,” they said.