If Joe Kennedy plans to return to Bremerton High School's football program this season, time is running out.
Kennedy, the former Knights assistant coach who was not rehired following the 2015 season after praying with students at the 50-yard line following games, was cleared to resume coaching after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that Kennedy's prayers were a private matter.
Three months later, Kennedy remains separated from the team. The Knights played their second game of the season Thursday, and Bremerton School District spokeswoman Karen Bevers said she was uncertain when Kennedy would be rejoining the program. Bremerton is scheduled to host its first home game on Sept. 6 against Olympic.
"We are ready to do what the court has directed and hire him as an assistant football coach," Bevers said. "However, we haven’t heard from him. We don’t even know if he’s in Washington and do not know what his plans are."
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Last month U.S. District Court Judge Robert Lasnik gave both sides 60 days (from Aug. 26) to provide plans for reinstating Kennedy, including details on which they agreed and disagreed. Bremerton's final regular season game is scheduled for Oct. 26.
Kennedy could not be reached for comment Friday. One of Kennedy's lawyers, Hiram Sasser, did not shed any light on the coach's potential return.
"We are working on finishing the case with the counsel for the district. We don’t have any comment at this time," Sasser said.
As far as Bremerton School District's stance on coaches who pray in public settings, the district has amplified its desire to protect the religious freedom of students, their families and district employees.
New district procedure, unveiled publicly in a report at Bremerton School District's Sept. 1 school board meeting, outlines procedures and guides the implementation of policy 5281, which was adopted in 2016 and covers grounds of disciplinary action or discharge of district staff.
"We worked closely with our legal counsel to draft 5281P as we work to satisfy our obligations to protect the religious freedom of our students and their families and district employees," Bevers said, noting that the new procedure does not require school board approval. "5281P is also intended to support district employees by providing guidance on the rules pertaining to personal conduct while supervising students at district events."
While noting the rights of employees, as citizens, to engage in brief personal conduct while acting in a supervisory role at district events, the procedure describes how and when coaches may engage in such conduct while on duty. Among the listed examples of acceptable personal conduct is "saying a brief, private prayer." Other examples include making a short phone call to a family member, checking social media or reading a newspaper article.
"Individuals engaging in personal conduct may not invite anyone else, whether students or otherwise, to join in that conduct," the procedure reads, citing the U.S. Supreme Court case decision filed by the justices in the case, which specifies that personal conduct cannot include any words or actions that "coerce anyone, including students or other District employees, to participate in religious exercise."
"The Supreme Court decision in Kennedy vs. Bremerton School District affirmed the long-settled law that prohibits public school employees from doing anything that pressures or coerces students on religious matters," Bevers said.
Furthermore, the new procedure aims to restrict the ability of any coach to pray in close proximity to students immediately following the completion of a game, as was the case with Kennedy seven years ago. It states that personal conduct, such as a brief, private prayer, is allowed only while "coaches or supervisors are not actively performing their coaching or supervisory roles or duties" and "after student participants have exited the event performance space."
A prayer would also not be allowed during competition or instruction time or be allowed while "student participants are within 25 feet of the coach or supervisor when the coach’s or supervisor’s personal conduct begins."
In a statement to the Kitsap Sun, Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United for Church and State, applauded Bremerton School District "for its unwavering commitment to protecting the religious freedom of its students, families and employees.”
This article originally appeared on Kitsap Sun: Joe Kennedy mum on making return as Bremerton football coach