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9TH CIRCUIT: School District Can Ban Football Coach from Publicly Praying

'Today’s 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...'

A high school football coach who was fired for praying after his games just lost a major battle at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Former Washington State football coach Joe Kennedy was fired from his job in 2015 by Bremerton School District after defying the district’s orders that he stop praying on the field.

He took the district to court and has been fighting in the legal system for six years.

His case may now go to the Supreme Court.

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Before the school district’s ban, Kennedy had prayed a short, silent prayer at the 50-yard line after each game.

“Before I coached my first game, in 2008, I made a commitment to God that I would give thanks after each game—win or lose—for the opportunity to be a a football coach and for my players,” Kennedy wrote in an op-ed to Fox News earlier this year.

“For seven years, after each game, I walked to the center of the field, knelt, and prayed a brief prayer of thanks.”

Eventually, though, the school district instructed Kennedy that he could no longer pray on the field where others could see him.

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Kennedy felt this denied his religious freedom and prayed anyway, which later led to his suspension and finally being fired from his job.

The Marine-turned-football-coach took his case to court and has been battling in the legal system for years.

In 2019, the Supreme Court declined to take up the case, instead allowing it to go to the district court and then the Ninth Circuit.

However, Justice Samuel Alito hinted the case could one day come back to the Supreme Court, writing, “the Ninth Circuit’s understanding of the free speech rights of public school teachers is troubling and may justify review in the future.”

Kennedy’s legal team have made it clear they plan to appeal the ruling.

“Banning coaches from praying just because they can be seen is wrong and contradicts the Constitution,” said Mike Berry, one of Kennedy’s attorneys and First Liberty Institute’s General Counsel. “Today’s 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.”

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