In Washington state, a high school football coach made it his game day ritual to take a knee and privately pray on the field — now, a federal court is putting an end to that.
A three-judge panel on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Bremerton High School football coach, Joseph Kennedy, is a public employee therefore he can’t outwardly pray on the job.
The decision read, in part:
When Kennedy 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.
Kennedy served as the school’s football coach from 2008-2015, and he would regularly lead his team in prayer in the locker room and on the field during those years. Similarly, he would take a few minutes to himself at the end of every game to take a knee pray on the 50-yard line.Screenshot/CBS News
The school district originally objected to these practices, stating that its employees could not endorse any one religion.
In response, the coach asked for a religious exemption under the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the school then allowed him to pray on the 50-yard line once all the players and parents had left the premises.
Kennedy agreed to this and would wait for the field to clear out before he engaged in his postgame prayer. However, he eventually went back to his old routine of taking a knee with other people present.
This controversial stunt grabbed national headlines and brought some unwanted attention to the school district — therefore, the school district decided to let him go after his contract expired in 2015.
— Jennifer Sullivan (@SeattleSullivan) August 9, 2016
Feeling that his First Amendment rights were violated, the former coach brought his case to court — so now we just learned that the judges upheld the decision made by the school district.
The court also held that Kennedy’s speech was not solely directed to God but also to the players and parents he insisted in praying in front of — which is not protected under the First Amendment, according to the decision.
However, the recent decision isn’t likely to cause the controversy to die out anytime soon. Religious activists have begun looking into the case and are currently exploring their options for appealing the court’s decision.