Bremerton coach Joe Kennedy, who prayed at games, placed on leave

Erik Lacitis, Seattle Times

In a four-page statement Wednesday, the Bremerton School District said it was placing an assistant football coach on paid administrative leave over a prayer controversy that’s gone nationwide.

Joe Kennedy, the assistant coach, had refused to comply with district orders to stop praying on the field after games. The district said it was bound by “lawful and constitutionally-required directives” about public religious displays.

The district said that Kennedy would remain employed by the district for the term of his contract as the junior varsity coach and assistant varsity coach. But Kennedy would not be allowed to participate “in any capacity” in the football program unless he agreed to comply with district directives.

Coaches are on season-to-season contracts, “pending program needs and satisfactory evaluation,” the district said. Kennedy’s contract ends Dec. 5, and he will receive $4,398 for about four months work. Kennedy was hired as an assistant coach in 2008.

Kennedy is not employed in any other capacity by the district. His Facebook page lists the former Marine as a “process improvement project manager” at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.

When contacted for comment, Kennedy had Mike Berry, senior counsel at the Liberty Institute in Plano, Texas, answer on his behalf. The group says its mission is “defending and preserving religious liberty in America.”

Will he sue?

“We’re prepared to take the necessary legal actions to defend Coach Kennedy’s religious freedom,” Berry said. “His religious expression is not something he should hide or be ashamed of.”