Public Speech or Private Prayer? Former High School Football Coach Loses Appeal

Joe Kennedy
Joe Kennedy (Charisma Media Archives)

A federal appeals court has unanimously ruled that a Washington school district did not violate the religious and free speech rights of former Bremerton, Washington, former high school football coach Joe Kennedy when it fired him in 2015.

"Kennedy's attempts to draw nationwide attention to his challenge to the District showed that he was not engaging in private prayer," Judge Milan Smith of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit wrote in the decision, attributing Kennedy's actions to a desire for publicity. "Instead, he was engaging in public speech of an overtly religious nature while performing his job duties."

The three-judge panel affirmed a district court's previous ruling in favor of the school district rather than Kennedy, a retired Marine Corps gunnery sergeant.

In a previous interview with Fox News, Kennedy said, "The First Amendment really means a lot to me, and it is really terrible today in America that somebody can be fired just for expressing their faith. So I am just fighting so that no one else ever has to go through this and doesn't have to choose between their job and their faith."

And Kennedy's lawyers at First Liberty Institute say the battle's not over yet.

"Banning coaches from praying just because they can be seen is wrong and contradicts the Constitution," said Mike Berry, general counsel for FLI. "Today's opinion threatens the rights of millions of Americans who simply want to be able to freely exercise their faith without fear of losing their job. We plan to appeal, and we hope the Supreme Court will right this wrong. This fight is far from over."

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