The role of religion in public life continues to be an issue as America’s faith community becomes more diverse. In a case that’s now receiving widespread attention, the country’s most Left-leaning federal appeals court has stricken down public worship.
Back in 2015, a high school football coach in Bremerton, Washington, was suspended for kneeling in prayer after games. As The Washington Examiner reports, the coach took his case to court, but the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the Constitution does not protect his right to pray at games.
Joseph Kennedy worked as assistant football coach for Bremerton High School from 2008 to 2015. His job came to an end when he was suspended for kneeling in prayer on the 50-yard line at the conclusion of games.
Although the case has been the subject of nationwide controversy, Kennedy’s prayers were popular among the Bremerton community, with many students, parents, local journalists, and even coaches and athletes from rival teams joining in the prayers.
While the group of people knelt in prayer, Kennedy would also make short motivational speeches referencing God. Eventually, the prayers caught the attention of anti-religion activists and detractors from outside the area.
It was an employee from another school district who petitioned the Bremerton School District to look into Kennedy’s prayers in 2015. Based on their policy on “religious-related activities and practices,” the school district instructed Kennedy to keep his motivational talks “secular” in nature.
At the close of the next game, however, Kennedy knelt in prayer at midfield, and much of the audience–as well as members and staff from both teams–joined in. But parents of band members called the school district to complain that their children were knocked over by “the rush of spectators onto the field.”
Soon, members of a local satanist congregation also became involved, demanding that they also be allowed to conduct religious ceremonies on the football field. In response, the school district closed access to the field.
Kennedy was subsequently suspended for allegedly failing to supervise students post-game until they returned to their parents. He was not rehired at the end of his suspension. According to a court statement, “The athletic director recommended that Kennedy not be rehired because Kennedy ‘failed to follow district policy’ and ‘failed to supervise student-athletes after games due to his interactions with [the] media and [the] community.”
As reported by The Seattle Times, Kennedy sued the Bremerton School District for violating his First Amendment right of freedom of worship. He hoped to get the school district to reinstate him as a coach and allow him to continue his prayers. Kennedy was helped by the Plano, Texas-based conservative organization First Liberty Institute.
Increasingly, Christians in the United States are coming under fire, not only in the public square but in lawsuits that attempt to censor their religious freedom. Should the US Supreme Court revisit the “separation of church and state” decision that usurped First Amendment religious freedoms?
Kennedy’s request was shot down by a district court, a decision upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. As The Los Angeles Times reports, this is the same court that struck down President Trump’s travel ban.
As ABC News also notes, Trump publicly supported Kennedy’s plight during the 2016 election campaign. Kennedy’s lawyers are currently weighing options, including a possible appeal to the US Supreme Court.