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It’s back to the U.S. Supreme Court for former Washington state high school football coach Joe Kennedy, who was fired for refusing to stop leading players in volunteer, post-game prayer sessions.
Article by Bob Unruh from WND.
A three-judge panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the most overturned appellate division in the nation, ruled Thursday that Bremerton High School did not violate Kennedy’s First Amendment free-speech rights when it fired him.
Kennedy argues his prayers at the 50-yard line after games were not the same as being in front of a classroom. He contends he was speaking as a private citizen rather than a public employee, whose speech can be restricted by the school district.
The U.S. Supreme Court previously returned the case to the district court to address constitutional issues. At the time, the justices noted that the Ninth Circuit’s “understanding of the free speech rights of public school teachers is troubling and may justify review in the future.”
The Ninth Circuit’s decision, written by Judge Milan D. Smith Jr., said Kennedy’s “attempts to draw nationwide attention to his challenge to the District showed that he was not engaging in private prayer,” KCPQ-TV in Seattle reported.
“Instead, he was engaging in public speech of an overtly religious nature while performing his job duties,” Milan wrote.
“The District tried to accommodate Kennedy, but that was spurned by Kennedy insisting that he be allowed to pray immediately after the conclusion of each game, potentially surrounded by students. The panel held that the district court correctly granted summary judgment to the District on Kennedy’s free speech and free exercise claims.”
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However, Kennedy’s attorney, Mike Berry, insisted that banning coaches from praying “just because they can be seen is wrong and contradicts the Constitution.”
“Today’s opinion threatens the rights of millions of Americans who simply want to be able to freely exercise their faith without fear of losing their job,” said Berry, who serves as general counsel for First Liberty Institute.
He said he plans to appeal and hopes the Supreme Court “will right this wrong.”
“This fight is far from over,” Berry said.
On the previous trip to the Supreme Court, Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh said the court needed more information to resolve the dispute.
Kennedy has garnered support from political and religious leaders, including President Trump, Franklin Graham, Hall of Fame football coach Bobby Bowden, and former NFL players Steve Largent and Chad Hennings.
Let’s show our support for Coach Kennedy, a former Marine who didn’t back down on prayer. https://t.co/K8VlViouIN
— Franklin Graham (@Franklin_Graham) August 25, 2017
Students had voluntarily joined the coach in prayer a number of times, and he eventually adjusted his practice to pray at a time when they were occupied and could not join.
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