Bremerton schools on hook for Kennedy’s attorney fees

Joe Kennedy, obscured at center in blue, is surrounded by Centralia High School football players as they kneel and pray with him on the field after their game against Bremerton on Oct.  16, 2015.

It’s all over now except for the shouting about who is going to pay Joe Kennedy’s lawyer bills.

That would be the Bremerton School District, according to Kennedy’s lawyers who at the US Supreme Court scored a nationwide victory Monday in a local controversy over the assistant varsity football coach’s right to pray on the field after games.

The district is not on the hook for damages, as Kennedy asked only to be reinstated as a Bremerton High School coach and to be allowed to hold a private prayer on the field after games.

However, the case racked up a huge tab as it bounced back and forth between the trial court, an appellate court and the US Supreme Court.

Hiram Sasser, executive general counsel for First Liberty, said Wednesday afternoon that the organization has not made a final tally, but he estimated the bill would run into the millions of dollars.

“I sure hope it’s not eight figures,” Sasser said Wednesday in a phone interview with the Kitsap Sun, meaning $10 million or more. “Any government entity, when they are defending themselves in a constitutional law case, they really have to make sure they are right.”

For its part, the district took issue with the decision’s focus on the three prayers Kennedy performed in October 2015, not the public prayers leading up to that, some of which others included and spanned seven years. Further, the district understands the ruling as affirming that officials can set “guidelines” for how Kennedy will pray.

“It described his prayers as quiet and personal and spokesperson that Mr. Kennedy sought only to pray alone,” district Karen Bevers wrote Friday in an email to the Kitsap Sun. “That wrongly describes what actually happened here: The school district had to respond to Mr. Kennedy’s whole course

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