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Supreme Court to hear case of Bremerton High School's former praying football coach

Joe Kennedy sparked a controversy over his prayers after Bremerton High School football games.

BREMERTON, Wash. — It's a battle that's been brewing in Bremerton for a long time.

"This is going to be the seventh football season. So yeah, about seven years," said Joe Kennedy, the former Bremerton High School football coach.

It has been seven years since Joe Kennedy served as head coach of the junior varsity football team and assistant coach of the varsity team. When he first got the job, he says his work routine involved a post-game prayer at the 50-yard line.

"God, I'm going to give you the glory after every game, win or lose," said Kennedy, referring to his reason for the prayers on the field. 

It wasn't long before others joined him.

"I had a couple players that said, 'you know, can I come out?' And I said absolutely. It's America, it's a free country," Kennedy explained.

Some Bremerton residents, like Paul Peterson, did not like it.

"It is a team, and if one or two or five people decide not to come out to the 50-yard line to pray with the coach, that could be construed or misconstrued as saying you don't want to be part of the team," said Peterson.

The school district told Kennedy to stop, and to pray separately from students. The district and Kennedy could not agree. He was fired, and he filed a lawsuit.

On former Coach Kennedy's side, they argue no one should be fired from their job for simply being a person of faith in public, but representatives for Bremerton School District say this case is about a coach who violated the religious freedom of public high school students.

"It's a very dangerous day in America to think of all the school children across this country where schools are supposed to welcome children, feeling alienated and potentially ostracized if they don't pray to play," said Rachel Laser, the President and CEO, Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Laser is representing the Bremerton School District.

Jeremy Dys is representing Kennedy.

"What's at stake in this case is very simple, and it is whether a coach can take a knee in silent prayer by himself for 15 to 30 seconds, and what that is going to mean for every public school teacher and coach around the nation," said Dys, Special Counsel with First Liberty Institute.

The fight that started on a high school football field will soon make it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Justices are expected to hear oral arguments next month.