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Bremerton schools: Praying coach still employed

BREMERTON, Wash. (AP) - The Bremerton school district says it is negotiating with the football coach who continues to pray following games after district officials asked him to keep religion off the field.

Bremerton High assistant coach Joe Kennedy knelt as his players left the field Friday night and prayed. The Kitsap Sun reports players from the other team and others joined him.

The school district said in a statement issued Monday that Kennedy's employment status is unchanged. School officials are reviewing the events of Friday night and are talking to the coach's lawyers.

"The district continues to hope that the district and Mr. Kennedy can arrive at common understandings that will ensure that the rights of all community members are honored and the law is respected," district spokeswoman Patty Glaser said in a statement.

Bremerton Superintendent Aaron Leavell has said Kennedy's long-standing practice of praying on the 50-yard line runs counter to the constitutional mandate for separation of church and state. He said in a statement before Friday's game that staff must refrain from religious expression while on duty.

Kennedy initially agreed to abide by the prayer ban, The Kitsap Sun reported, but he knelt in silent prayer at Friday's homecoming game against Centralia. Leavell and other school officials were at the game.

Kennedy's law firm, Texas-based firm Liberty Institute, says the district has no right to ban the coach from personally praying. They say he didn't encourage or discourage students from participating.

The team's junior varsity game scheduled for Monday in Centralia has been canceled. Kennedy coaches the junior varsity team and is assistant coach of the varsity team.

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