(Reuters) – A Washington State school district did not violate the religious and free speech rights of a high school football coach by forbidding him from kneeling in prayer at the 50-yard line after games, a federal appeals court ruled unanimously on Thursday.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the Bremerton school district would have violated the First Amendment’s ban on government establishment of religion by letting Joseph Kennedy pray in view of spectators, and with students who might feel pressured to join him.
It rejected Kennedy’s claim he was engaging in “private” prayer, citing his efforts to draw local and national support, and said district personnel had received “hateful” and “threatening” emails, letters and calls from around the country.
“Kennedy’s attempts to draw nationwide attention to his challenge to the District showed that he was not engaging in private prayer. Instead, he was engaging in public speech of an overtly religious nature while performing his job duties,” Judge Milan wrote. “The District tried to accommodate Kennedy, but that was spurned by Kennedy insisting that he be allowed to pray immediately after the conclusion of each game, potentially surrounded by students. The panel held that the district court correctly granted summary judgment to the District on Kennedy’s free speech and free exercise claims.”
Attorneys from Liberty Institute representing Kennedy said they plan to appeal the court’s latest decision. Since the Lower Courts again rejected the appeal, the issue could make its way back to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Kennedy had previously led players in postgame prayers, but the Bremerton School District ordered him to stop in 2015, saying the practice violated the separation of church and state required by the U.S. Constitution. He lost his job after he defied the ban.
◾️In 2016 Joe Kennedy lost at a U.S. District Court in Tacoma Wa.
◾️In 2017, he lost at the Ninth Circuit.
◾️In 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case.
◾️In 2020, he lost again at the U.S. District Court in a summary judgment.
◾️ March 18, 2021 (yesterday), loses again at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Background here and at at NBC News.
Court ruling here.
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