A federal appeals court has refused to reinstate a former high school football coach in Bremerton, Wash., who lost his job after he refused to stop praying on the field after games.
The Seattle Times reports that a three-judge panel has ruled that Bremerton High School coach Joseph Kennedy “took advantage of his position to press his particular views upon impressionable and captive minds before him.”
The judges said Kennedy was acting as a teacher and could not prove he was exercising his First Amendment rights as a private citizen when he insisted, against orders by Bremerton School District administrators, on taking a knee at the 50-yard line after football games and praying.
[MORE: Read the appeals court decision]
Kennedy first began the practice in 2008, according to court documents, and nobody complained until an employee from another district mentioned it to someone with the Bremerton district in 2015. By then, Kennedy often was joined by members of his team, an occasional parent and sometimes players from the other team.
After an investigation, the district told Kennedy he could continue the practice only if he did it after the players had gone home and the field was empty. Kennedy refused and was placed on leave by the school district. His contract was not renewed after the 2015 season.
Kennedy sued with the help of the First Liberty Institute in Plano, Texas. The complaint contended that the district was infringing on Kennedy's religious and personal rights. After losing in federal district court, he took the issue to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Richard Katskee, an attorney for the Washington, D.C.-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which filed an amicus brief in support of the district, said the ruling was clear: “Teachers and coaches don’t get to pressure students to pray.”