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Lawyers for coach threaten to sue Bremerton School District over after-game prayers

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BREMERTON, Wash. -- Lawyers representing the embattled Bremerton football coach said they’re ready to sue the school district over coach Joe Kennedy’s after-game prayers.

But the Bremerton School District said the coach could be fired if he leads a prayer on public school property again in front of students.

The district told Kennedy in a letter last week that he is allowed to pray while at work but not in front of his athletes.

“This is the land of opportunity,” said Kennedy. “I’m seeing it all stripped away because I’m an employee.”

Bremerton district officials takes issue with Kennedy praying on the field in front of students after a high school football game.

The conservative Liberty Institute asked the district for a religious accommodation for Kennedy but that was denied; now they are prepared to sue.

“The ball is in their court, the school district’s court,” said Mike Berry, senior counsel with Liberty Institute. “They have the opportunity to make this right, to do the right thing and to follow the law.”

But the district says the law is clear. Officials believe Kennedy’s public prayers could violate federal law that separates church and state.

District Schools Superintendent Aaron Leavell worries the prayers could open the district to lawsuits.

On Friday, Leavell told Kennedy in a three-page letter that his prayers: “Must not interfere with the performance of job responsibilities, and most not lead to a perception of district endorsement of religion.”

The letter also continued saying: “Any further violations will be grounds for discipline, up to and including discharge from district employment.”

The letter also said Kennedy could pray at a private location on campus as long as the prayers don’t interfere with his job.

But Kennedy and his attorneys believe that rule violates the coach’s rights.

“They’re telling me that you know, oh we’ll give you a closet to go hide in,” said Kennedy. “I’m an American citizen, I’m a taxpayer and this is my community. My kids go to that school. You’re telling me I can’t do this?”

Liberty Institute lawyers said their suit against the district could be filed by the end of the week.