The judges at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the most overturned appeals court in the country, Thursday sided with a school district’s hostile manner toward the post-game prayers of a football coach.
A three-judge panel on the court earlier has ruled in the case of coach Joe Kennedy that when he “kneeled and prayed on the fifty-yard line immediately after games while in view of students and parents, he spoke as a public employee, not as a private citizen, and his speech therefore was constitutionally unprotected.”
The verdict came in the coach’s lawsuit against the school over First Amendment violations after officials fired him for his prayers.
It was Hiram Sasser of First Liberty, Kennedy’s attorney, who said the school is acting in a hostile manner toward Christianity and “sending the message to all people of faith that they are not welcome.”
Thursday, the 9th Circuit rejected Kennedy’s request for a full-court hearing on his case.
“It is disappointing that the Ninth Circuit would refuse to hear Coach Kennedy’s case en banc, especially in light of the extreme, far-reaching opinion issued by the three-judge panel,” said Mike Berry, deputy general counsel for First Liberty.
“If this decision is allowed to stand, Jewish teachers can be fired for wearing a yarmulke in sight of students, Catholic teachers are at risk if they wear a crucifix, and Muslim teachers may face discrimination for wearing a hijab to work.”
The earlier decision was that the Bremerton, Washington, school district was allowed to fire Kennedy over his prayers.
Kelly Shackelford, chief of First Liberty, said: “Banning all coaches from praying just because they can be seen is wrong and contradicts the Constitution. We will keep fighting on behalf of Coach Kennedy until his religious liberties are fully restored, including appealing this case to the Supreme Court of the United States.”
WND reported more than a year ago that the arguments for First Amendment rights for Kennedy arose even as other NFL players were using their freedom of speech to protest the national anthem without repercussions.
Kennedy said it was a “punch in the gut” to be banished to the stands during games.
Kennedy sued after Bremerton High School terminated him for offering a brief, quiet prayer at the 50-yard line after football games.
See their description of the case:
“If the Constitution protects the right of a football coach to kneel in protest, it should certainly protect the right of a football coach to kneel in prayer,” said Berry.
Kennedy wants only to get his job back; he is seeking no monetary damages.
His suspension was announced by Supt. Aaron Leavell. Shortly after, during the 2015 football season, the school dismissed him.
In an an appearance on Fox News, Kennedy described his reasons for praying: “It’s something that I kind of made an agreement with, my personal faith in God, that this is something I was going to do – give Him the glory after every single game and do it on the 50 and I’m kind of a guy of my word.”
As WND reported, he said he prayed both before and after games for years for the safety of all the players. Often, players on both teams would join him on the field to bow their heads.
Donald Trump, then the Republican presidential candidate, mentioned Kennedy’s “outrageous” plight while speaking about religious liberty during the Retired American Warriors PAC gathering in Herndon, Virginia.
“The other day, just to add to your list, I was watching one of the news programs and they had a, I think high school football coach, you know, they’re going into battle,” said Trump.
Audience members then interrupted Trump, saying “he’s here,” referring to the coach.
Trump, who said he had no idea Kennedy was in attendance, then asked the former Marine Corps gunnery sergeant to stand.
“So you’re not allowed to pray before a football game?” Trump asked.
“They put me on suspension and then at the end of the year they gave me an adverse write-up of how well I did my job. I didn’t change anything for eight years,” Kennedy told Trump in front of the other retired service members. “Always prayed after every game. And they just really slapped me on it. Said what a horrible person I was. Ended up just not renewing my contract, so ultimately firing me.”
Trump responded that Kennedy’s termination was “absolutely outrageous.”
“I think it’s outrageous. I think it’s very, very sad and outrageous. Hey, it’s about religious liberty.”
Public figures such evangelist Franklin Graham and former NFL stars Steve Largent and Chad Hennings have supported Kennedy.