Court torpedoes fight for football field prayer – again!

By WND Staff

A federal judge has ruled again against Coach Joe Kennedy, who was fired by the Bremerton, Washington, school district for taking a knee in brief, silent prayer after the school’s football games.

The case already has been to the U.S. Supreme Court, and it looks like it may end up going back, with lawyers at First Liberty Institute saying they will appeal the ruling from Judge Ronald Leighton.

The judge granted a summary judgment motion from the school district, essentially dismissing the case.

Kennedy’s case drew the attention of President Trump, evangelist Franklin Graham and others.

“We are disappointed in this decision, but we are undeterred in our mission to obtain justice for Coach Kennedy,” said Mike Berry, general counsel for First Liberty Institute. “For almost five long years Joe has had to miss coaching the game he loves. Joe has fought – first as a U.S. Marine, then as a coach – to prove that every American has the right to engage in individual religious expression, including praying in public, without fear of getting fired. He knows this fight isn’t over.”

The case reached the Supreme Court in January, but the justices declined to intervene and sent it back to the lower courts to answer questions.

The justices said “the Ninth Circuit’s understanding of the free speech rights of public school teachers is troubling and may justify review in the future.”

Trump mentioned the case when he announced new protections for prayer and religious expression in public schools.

He explained the Founders “understood that no right is more fundamental to a peaceful, prosperous, and virtuous society than the right to follow one’s religious convictions.”

That effort includes a new emphasis on informing officials that students and teachers are protected by First Amendment religious rights. The Education Department is updating 2003 guidance regarding prayer in public schools.

Kelly Shackelford, chief counsel for First Liberty, was at the White House for the announcement at the time along with clients Hannah Allen and Kennedy.

“We commend President Trump for his strong efforts to protect America’s first freedom – religious freedom,” he said at the time. “These revisions to the Guidelines on Prayer and Religious Expression ensure that the religious liberty of students in public schools is protected.”

Shackelford said the religious freedom of America’s public school students and teachers “does not stop at the schoolhouse gate.

Religious rights has been one of the focal points of the Trump administration. He’s already signed executive orders upholding religious liberty and the right to engage in religious speech, and recognizing the essential contributions of faith-based organizations. He also established the Faith and Opportunity Initiative and has fought in courts for religious liberty.

Further, he reversed the Obama-era policy that prevented the government from providing disaster relief to religious organizations. And he has called on the international community and business leaders to protect religious freedom around the world.

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