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High school football coach loses appeal to pray in public

BREMERTON, Wash. — Former high school football coach Joe Kennedy lost his appeal Wednesday (Aug. 23) at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled he did not have a right to pray at the 50-yard line after games.

A three-judge panel of the court said Kennedy’s prayers did not amount to constitutionally protected free speech because he was acting as a public employee when he offered them.

“By kneeling and praying on the 50-yard line immediately after games while in view of students and parents, Kennedy was sending a message about what he values as a coach, what the district considers appropriate behavior, and what students should believe, or how they ought to behave,” Judge Milan Smith wrote in the majority opinion.

Smith went on to claim Kennedy “took advantage of his position” to push his faith on “impressionable and captive minds.”

Kennedy served in the U.S. Marines and was a part-time coach at the Bremerton, Wash., high school. He began his post-game prayer routine in 2007. The short prayers soon attracted large groups of students and parents — and the attention of school district officials who ordered him in 2015 to stop. When he refused, he lost his job. He sued nearly a year later.

— by Leigh Jones

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