COACH ORDERED TO STOP PRAYING; FIRING UPHELD
August 8, 2018 | By First Liberty
Please pray that this court decision will be overturned and that religious freedom will be restored.
Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment. (John 7:24)
Attorneys for First Liberty Institute and Kirkland & Ellis LLP filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court of the United States on behalf of former high school football coach Joe Kennedy, asking the nine Justices to reverse a lower court decision that allowed a school district to fire him because fans and students could see him take a knee in silent prayer after football games.
“Banning all coaches from praying just because they can be seen is wrong and contradicts the Constitution,” said Kelly Shackelford, President and CEO of First Liberty. “We must protect the right of every American to engage in private religious expression, including praying in public, without fear of getting fired.”
Paul Clement, former U.S. Solicitor General, partner at Kirkland & Ellis LLP and First Liberty network attorney said “We hope the Supreme Court will review the Ninth Circuit’s decision. This is an important case that could determine whether teachers and coaches lose their First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse gates.”
A copy of the petition can be found here.
Kennedy was head coach for the Bremerton High School junior varsity football team and an assistant coach for the varsity team. Before he even coached his first game, this Marine Corps veteran turned football coach made a commitment to God that he would give thanks after every game—win or lose—for the opportunity to be a football coach and for his players.
So after his very first football game in 2008, Coach Kennedy waited until the players cleared the field, then took a knee and silently thanked God for his players. Coach Kennedy continued doing this after every game for seven years and no students, coaches or parents ever complained about it. In fact, it was a compliment that started the problems.
The School District Bans Prayer
After receiving a compliment from a school administrator about how they were grateful for Coach Kennedy’s leadership and great example for the team through his prayers, Bremerton High School responded with a demand letter to the coach threatening his fundamental right to free speech and religious exercise. The Bremerton School District superintendent sent Kennedy an official letter from the school district, telling him that he must stop praying after the games….
First Liberty Legal Action
Coach Kennedy filed a charge of religious discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against Bremerton School District. In response to Coach Kennedy’s EEOC complaint, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a right-to-sue letter to Coach Kennedy and First Liberty Institute filed a lawsuit against Bremerton School District.
A federal district court dismissed the lawsuit and First Liberty filed an appeal with the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Ninth Circuit Approves of Coach Kennedy’s Termination
The Ninth Circuit issued a ruling against Coach Kennedy. The court argued that Coach Kennedy’s prayers were not protected by the Constitution because, according to the Ninth Circuit, Coach Kennedy was praying as a public employee rather than in his private, personal capacity…. The case is on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. (Excerpted from First Liberty.)