The case of high-school football coach Joe Kennedy, removed from his job because of his school district’s “hostile” attitude toward his prayers, will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, setting up what his legal team hopes will be a landmark case.
“Coach Kennedy has the Constitution on his side,” said a statement from Kennedy’s advocates, the non-profit First Liberty. “The First Amendment prohibits a school district from being hostile toward religious beliefs and expression. The proper role of a school district is to remain neutral and accommodating toward private religious beliefs.”
WND reported in January when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the most overturned appeals court in the country, sided with officials in the Bremerton, Washington, school district.
They fired him for taking a knee to pray on the 50-yard line after games.
A three-judge panel on the Ninth Circuit said that when Kennedy kneeled and prayed 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.”
Hiram Sasser of First Liberty, Kennedy’s attorney, said the school was acting in a hostile manner toward Christianity and “sending the message to all people of faith that they are not welcome.”
First Liberty described the case to restore Kennedy’s rights as possibly “one of the most definitive battles fought for religious liberty in the last decade.”
First Liberty explained that Kennedy was fired for a 15-second silent prayer, and the appeal is warranted because the Ninth Circuit’s decision “puts state employees in danger of losing their job if they dare to publicly express their religious beliefs.”
The legal team said the Ninth Circuit’s prior ruling “could make it permissible for school districts and government agencies to dismiss employees for allowing their faith to be seen in public.”
“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.”
See their description of the case:
In 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 nominee, mentioned Kennedy’s “outrageous” plight while speaking about religious liberty during the Retired American Warriors PAC gathering in Herndon, Virginia.
After discovering, to his surprise, that Kennedy was in the audience, Trump 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.”
Public figures such as evangelist Franklin Graham and former NFL stars Steve Largent and Chad Hennings have supported Kennedy.