A football coach from Washington State who was fired for praying after games reportedly is taking his case to the United States Supreme Court.
The Christian Headlines said high school football coach Joseph Kennedy will be taking his case to the Supreme Court after his case represented by First Liberty against Bremerton School District was rejected by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit last Monday.
Kennedy was initially suspended in 2015 by Bremerton School for praying alone after games, which players would join voluntarily. He was then fired by the school. He filed a lawsuit in the district court, who ruled in favor of the school. He then contested the district court's ruling in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit but they rejected the appeal to rehear the case.
The Ninth Circuit rejected Kennedy's appeal because he "spoke as a public employee" that prohibits him from engaging in "religiously affiliated actions" beyond locations and occasions designated by the school, which were "school building, athletic facility, or press box" and in the field after the said premises have been vacated by players so he can pray by himself.
Accordingly, Kennedy was sent by the school in September 2015 a letter notifying him that an inquiry was being conducted on District staff's appropriate compliance to the Board Policy 2340 or the "Religious-Related Activities and Practices" Policy in line with the school's football program.
The notice cited "two problematic practices" Kennedy has incorporated in the football program, such as "providing an inspirational talk at midfield following the completion of the game" that "included overtly religious references" and even invites the entire opposing team to take part in. The other practice involved leading "the students and coaching staff in a prayer" that players can opt-out of as was customarily done even before Kennedy became the coach.
Overall, the notice then reminded Kennedy of the need to adhere to the policy and of respecting the First Amendment in line with the Establishment Clause. The notice did not forbid Kennedy to stop giving the inspirational talks but to refocus it in line with the football program. Similarly, prayer and other religious activity was not forbidden "so long as it does not interfere with job responsibilities."
First Liberty responded to the notice a month after by pointing out that Kennedy "never received a complaint about his post-game personal prayers" that he did "after his official duties have ceased." The legal nonprofit organization also pointed out Kennedy never forced anyone in his prayers.
"He neither requests, encourages, nor discourages students from participating in, or coming to where he prays. His prayers neither proselytize nor denigrate the beliefs of others. And he has never received a complaint about his post-game personal prayers. Under these circumstances, there is no constitutional prohibition against Coach Kennedy's private religious expression, regardless of whether students voluntarily come to the location where he is praying," the response letter said.
The lawsuit was formally filed in August 2016 after at the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington at Tacoma before it progressed to the Ninth Circuit two months after.
In the case opinion of Ninth Circuit Presiding Judge Ronald Leighton released in August 2017, the reality of "striking an appropriate balance between ensuring the right to free speech and avoiding the endorsement of a state religion" was raised.
Leighton commended the lawyers for doing an "exceptional job" in presenting their arguments regarding the conflict on the practice of religion but sided with the school district.
"At the end of the day, I believe that a resumption of Kennedy's conduct would violate the Establishment Clause. I would therefore deny the preliminary injunction on the additional ground that BSD can satisfy the fourth Eng factor," Leighton said.
First Liberty appealed the Ninth District Court last July 2020 to reverse the district court's judgment on the basis of Kennedy's "Free Speech, Free Exercise, and Title VII claims."
First Liberty revealed that the Ninth Circuit sided with the school district after an oral argument took place in January this year. Prior to that, they filed a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case in January 2019 and was requested additional information when the judges found the "Ninth Circuit's understanding of the free speech rights of public school teachers is troubling and may justify review in the future."
First Liberty has created an advocacy page in Facebook to get supporters for Kennedy's case.