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Washington coach prays on football field, defying orders

Bremerton high school assistant football coach prays on the 50 yard line after each game. A violation of the separation of church and state?

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Bremerton high school assistant football coach Joe Kennedy

KCPQ Seattle

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A Washington coach who was told by district officials to stop leading prayers after games went ahead with a prayer at the 50-yard line after a weekend game.

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

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Mr. Kennedy told the NBC-affiliate KING-5 in Seattle in September that he always prays after games.s ometimes he's alone, sometimes players join him.

"I spent 20 years in the Marine Corps, and it's been about protecting the freedom of other people," he said.  "It's about the freedom, and people can believe whatever they want.  I'm just exercising my right.  The game is over, and I just thank God for every one of these young men that are out here."

It's unclear what the district will do. Messages left the district's attorney as well as district officials were not immediately returned Sunday.

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

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.

US laws on the separation of church and state have frequently clashed on the football field.

In August, in Villa Rica, Ga., 18 students and a football coach were submerged in a tub of water before football practice, in a mass baptism by the pastor of a local Baptist church, as The Christian Science Monitor reported:

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The video, recorded by the pastor's son and which has since been removed from YouTube, was reportedly accompanied by the following message: "We had the privilege of baptizing a bunch of football players and a coach on the field of Villa Rica High School! We did this right before practice! Take a look and see how God is STILL in our schools!"

The incident, which occurred on Aug. 17, gained national prominence after the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation saw the video and sent a letter to the school stating it is "illegal for coaches to participate in religious activities with students."

Last year, cheerleaders at an Oneida, Tenn., high school made headlines when they sidestepped a prayer ban by leading crowds at a Friday night football game in a recitation of the Lord's Prayer.