WA Football Coach Fired Over Public Prayers at Games Loses Appeal (Again)

Once again, an Appeals Court has ruled against a public school football coach who wouldn’t stop praying on the field.

Joe Kennedy is the former assistant football coach at Bremerton High School in Washington who continued to pray publicly despite several warnings that he was violating the law. In December of 2015, the District said they wouldn’t be renewing his contract.

In August of 2016, he filed a federal lawsuit against his former District.

To go into a bit more detail, back in September of 2015, when Kennedy was told that he couldn’t lead prayers with his team, he quickly decided he wanted to be the next Kim Davis, acting as if his religious freedom was under attack. He threatened to pray on the field anyway, making a high school football game all about him. District officials told him to stop it. Kennedy threatened to sue. Even The Satanic Temple got involved by telling everyone that they had an on-field prayer ready to go if Kennedy went through with one of his own. It was just a huge spectacle all around. And after granting him a paid leave, the District got rid of Kennedy and his pseudo-martyr ways for good.

The lawsuit against the Bremerton School District, filed by First Liberty, claimed that Kennedy wanted nothing more than to “pray quietly and alone” after football games… right in the middle of the field when everyone was still around. (Seriously.)

Kennedy was praying before the students had gotten out of their uniforms. Before the post-game conversation with the team. Before interviews with local media. In other words, he was still on the clock.

His argument made as much sense as a classroom teacher saying, “I wasn’t praying publicly during Math class. I did it while the students were turning the pages in their textbooks.”

If what Kennedy did was legal, then every public school coach in the country would have a new loophole allowing them to pray with their teams. Don’t say you were “leading” a prayer. Just say you were doing it on your own, but everyone just happened to join in!

It was an awful argument. What Kennedy did was coercive from the very beginning. Students knew that he was a Christian because he made it clear after every game. If they wanted to get on his good side, they could pray with him. That could be the difference leading to more playing time and all the benefits that come with it. Even if Kennedy denied that he treated players differently because of their faith, the whole point was that he shouldn’t have been putting them in that situation in the first place. That’s why public school coaches are prohibited from proselytizing while working.

The lawsuit said the District violated Kennedy’s right to free speech, free exercise, and his civil rights — discriminating against him, he argued, because he’s a Christian.

That wasn’t true. He wasn’t persecuted because he’s a Christian. He got away with it as long as he did because he’s a Christian.

Kennedy didn’t want money. He wanted his old job back. But he’s shown repeatedly that he can’t be trusted in that position. He sees it as a method for evangelism, not a way to improve kids’ lives.

That’s why, in September of 2016, a federal district court judge refused to overturn the District’s decision.

Kennedy’s legal team appealed the decision, and both sides presented their case to a three-judge panel on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals last June. And then, a few months ago, they issued a ruling against Kennedy.

In sum, 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, not taking the hint, filed another appeal, this time to the full Ninth Circuit.

And yesterday, we received word that they don’t want to listen to his whining either. A majority of the justices said they didn’t want to rehear his case.

“It is disappointing that the Ninth Circuit would refuse to hear Coach Kennedy’s case en banc, especially in light of the extreme, far-reaching opinion issued by the three-judge panel,” said Mike Berry, deputy general counsel for First Liberty. He predicted dire consequences to religious liberties if the decision is allowed to stand.

“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, who said the institute will ask the Supreme Court to hear the case.

Shackelford, like so many conservative Christians who talk about “religious freedom,” is lying.

Coaches are still allowed to pray. They always have been. They can do it privately whenever they want. What they can’t do is make a public spectacle of it while on the clock as a public school employee. They can’t do it with students they coach or teach. They can’t do it in a way that sends the message that they’ll give preferential treatment to students who join in.

Every court has been saying exactly that, and Christians refuse to listen because equal treatment under the law violates their persecution complex.

(Thanks to Brian for the link. Large portions of this article were published earlier)

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