A high school football coach in Washington state who won his job back after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled he could pray on the field resigned Wednesday after just one game back.
Assistant Bremerton High School coach Joe Kennedy made the announcement on his website, citing several reasons, including that he needed to care for an ailing family member out of state. He had been living full-time in Florida before the football season started last Friday.
“I believe I can best continue to advocate for constitutional freedom and religious liberty by working from outside the school system so that is what I will do,” Kennedy wrote. “I will continue to work to help people understand and embrace the historic ruling at the heart of our case.”
In a statement, the Bremerton School District confirmed Kennedy had submitted his resignation. School officials declined to comment on his exit, saying they would not issue any further statements, as the resignation is a personnel matter.
Kennedy had lost his job during a controversy over his public post-game prayers. He was back on the field Friday after the U.S. Supreme Court held his practice was protected by the Constitution.
Kennedy strode alone to midfield, knelt and prayed for about 10 seconds after his Bremerton High School football team beat visiting Mount Douglas Secondary School 27-12 Friday night.
Kennedy had fought to be rehired for seven years but seemed more anxious than triumphant about his return.
It was his first game as coach since 2015, when he was placed on leave after warnings from the school district, which eventually declined to renew his contract.
The district had asked Kennedy to keep any on-field praying non-demonstrative or apart from students, saying they were concerned that tolerating his public post-game prayers would suggest government endorsement of religion, in violation of the separation of church and state.
Kennedy’s fight to get his job back quickly became a cultural touchstone, pitting the religious liberties of government employees against longstanding principles protecting students from religious coercion.
He lost at every court level until the merits of his case reached the U.S. Supreme Court last year. The conservative majority sided with him, with Justice Neil Gorsuch writing “the best of our traditions counsel mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and suppression, for religious and nonreligious views alike.”