Denied Again: 9th Circuit Rejects High School Football Coach’s Right To Pray on the Football Field After Games

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High school football coach Joseph Kennedy used to pray collectively with his players following games until Bremerton School District in Washington state suspended him for the practice.

Then he was fired.

Kennedy and the First Liberty Institute law firm, representing him, appealed the decision. A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the school district did not violate Kennedy’s constitutional rights or his rights under Title VII.

“Instead, he was engaging in public speech of an overtly religious nature while performing his job duties. The District tried to accommodate Kennedy, but that was spurned by Kennedy insisting that he be allowed to pray immediately after the conclusion of each game, potentially surrounded by students.”

Mike Berry, First Liberty Institute’s General Counsel, said banning coaches from praying just because they can be seen is wrong and contradicts the Constitution threaten the freedom of religion. The “opinion threatens the rights of millions of Americans who simply want to be able to freely exercise their faith without fear of losing their job. We plan to appeal, and we hope the Supreme Court will right this wrong. This fight is far from over.”

The Supreme Court of the United States declined to review the case in 2019. In a separate statement written by Justice Alito and joined by Justices Thomas, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh, the justices clarified that the Court needed more information in order to resolve the matter. The Ninth Circuit’s understanding of the free speech rights of public school teachers is troubling and may justify review in the future,” Justice Alito wrote.

The case then returned to the district court for further review. In January 2020, U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Leighton granted the Bremerton School District’s motion for summary judgment. Kennedy’s attorneys then appealed to the Ninth Circuit, which heard oral argument in January.

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-CNJ Staff reports

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