Joe Kennedy, the former assistant football coach at Bremerton High School who was suspended and let go for continuing to pray after football games, will not be returning to team practices and games anytime soon.
Coach Kennedy’s story rose to national news prominence two years ago when the Bremerton School District told him to stop praying with students before and after football games. Believing that he has the right to pray privately after games, Kennedy began “taking a knee” on the fifty-yard line following the conclusion of each game.
Bremerton School District placed the coach on suspension, then refused to renew his contract for the following year. Kennedy filed a lawsuit against the school district, requesting that he be reinstated as coach and contending that the school district had discriminated against him and was violating his First Amendment rights. After losing at the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, Kennedy appealed the decision to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Kennedy’s case was heard before a three-judge panel, which ruled yesterday that Kennedy’s prayer isn’t protected under the First Amendment and Title VII because he acted as a public employee and not as a private citizen. Kennedy’s prayer “risks alienating valued community members from an environment that must be open and welcoming to all,” according to the judges.
First Liberty, the religious liberty organization representing Kennedy, has not decided whether it will appeal the decision.