Remember the old high school football assistant coach who was so eager to pray on the 50-yard line after games that he took his case all the way to the United States Supreme Court?
The high court ordered a Washington state school district to return coach Joseph Kennedy to his former job. To which the conservative celebrity-turned-coach said, “As soon as the school district says, ‘Hey, come back,’ I’m here, first flight.”
The problem is that Coach Kennedy is a no-show, according to a columnist for the Seattle Times who followed the story.
After all this attention, all the publicity, all the demands for reinstatement, it seems like this isn’t what the coach really wanted after, according to research by Danny Westneat of the Time. What’s more, the coach’s former employment status was so blatantly misrepresented by his evangelical lawyers — a lie repeated in the court’s majority opinion — that it makes the rehire request all the more peculiar.
The court’s opinion in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District made conservative evangelicals rejoice and traditional separationists of church and state howl. The court’s new conservative supermajority abandoned decades of precedent and favored the desire of evangelicals to freely exercise their religious beliefs over the constitutional ban on establishing a religion.
Lost in the publicity over that decision — which said Coach Kennedy had the right to hold a prayer meeting at the 50-yard line after high school football games — was the decision that Kennedy should get his old job back. This request was made on the premise that Kennedy had been fired from his job because of his practice of prayer, which turns out to be false.
Westneat wrote, “The school district has been baffled by what has happened since (the court’s decision). They complied by offering to reinstate him, they say, and now the football season is in full swing. But Kennedy is far from on the sidelines. “He’s had his reinstatement papers since August 8, and we haven’t even received a phone call,” said Karen Bevers, spokeswoman for Bremerton Schools.
Where was the coach? According to Westneat, he was in Alaska, meeting former Vice President Mike Pence and evangelist Franklin Graham. And on the eve of Bremerton’s school’s first game this season, Kennedy was in Milwaukee to receive an engraved .22 caliber rifle at an American Legion convention.
“On Game 2 weekend, which the Knights also won, Kennedy appeared with former President Donald Trump at the Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey,” said the Time reported. “He saw Trump receiving a religious award from a group called the American Cornerstone Institute.”
The celebrity trainer is on the speaking circuit.
In short, the celebrity coach is on the speaking circuit. He doesn’t have time to be an assistant high school football coach.
What’s worse, Kennedy’s schtick on the speaking circuit talks about “the prayer that got me fired”. But he was not fired.
It’s a fact that school district attorneys tried to reinforce in the Supreme Court, but their facts fell on deaf ears. A majority of justices in the nation’s highest court fell for a lie told by Kennedy’s legal team.
The Time explained, “In 2015, he was placed on paid leave near the end of the season after holding a series of on-court prayer sessions with students and state lawmakers. He still got paid for his full assistant coaching contract, around $5,000. High school assistants often work on annual contracts, and Kennedy, at odds with the head coach and aggrieved by what happened, never reapplied to work the 2016 season.”
The neighborhood is emphatic: He was not fired.
But Kennedy’s attorney, Paul Clement, told the court: “The record is clear that Coach Kennedy was fired for that midfield prayer.” The Time noted that the words “dismissed”, “fire” or “firing” were used 16 times during the one-and-a-half-hour session before the Supreme Court.
“You can’t sue them for not rehiring you if you didn’t apply,” school district attorney Michael Tierney told the trial court. “The district did not receive an application from him, had four vacancies and filled them with people who had applied. He did not fail to rehire him.
As The Times reported: “The Supreme Court simply ignored this inconvenient fact – along with a host of others. At one point during the closing argument, when another school district attorney said that the story that had been shot did not match the facts – that the coach’s prayers were neither silent nor lonely, and that he hadn’t been fired either – Judge Samuel Alito cut him off, saying ‘I know you want to make this very complicated.’
For now, the indisputable fact is that the praying coach hasn’t shown up for the job he said he wanted back. But the game continues.
Supreme Court once again awards conservative evangelicals victory for free speech over state establishment of religion
To the Supreme Court: The First Amendment on the 50-yard line | Opinion of Charles Haynes
Former high school football coach gets second shot in Supreme Court claiming he should be able to lead post-game public prayers at the 50-yard line
As fired coach case heads to Supreme Court, broad coalition says it was his students who were the victims, not the coach