October 4, 2017 By Wallin & Klarich

Recently, we’ve seen that sports can spark controversy. NFL players have taken knees and locked arms during the national anthem to protest inequality and injustice, but the NFL isn’t the only form of football causing controversy.

A high school football coach who prayed at the 50-yard line after a game has sparked a debate over the separation of church and state. Are coaches allowed to pray on the field?

High School Football Coach Fired for Praying on the Field

As an assistant football coach at Bremerton High School, Joe Kennedy would take a knee on the 50-yard line of the field, bow his head and say a quick prayer after every game. According to the school district, this violated policies separating church and state.

Despite repeated attempts to get him to stop this action, Kennedy refused to stop praying on the field, so the school district placed him on administrative leave. He remained on administrative leave until his contract expired in 2016, and Kennedy was not offered to return to his position.

In response, Kennedy sued the district and his lawyers filed an injunction that would have allowed him to return to his job while his lawsuit was pending.

Court Denies Kennedy’s Request

The lower courts denied Kennedy’s request to be reinstated to his job. He appealed the decision.

Kennedy’s attorneys argued that the school district violated his constitutional rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion by firing him. According to his lawyers, denying his right to a brief prayer threatened other forms of religious expression, including wearing a hijab, making the sign of the cross and wearing a yarmulke.

Recently, a three-judge panel for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Bremerton School District was justified in suspending Kennedy.

The court ruled that because Kennedy was wearing attire from the school in full view of students and parents, he was constitutionally unprotected. Kennedy “spoke as a public employee, not as a private citizen when he kneeled and prayed on the fifty-yard line.”

Additionally, the court pointed out that the Bremerton School District does not prohibit its employees from wearing religious garb, so his argument that prohibiting him from praying on the field threatens other forms of religious expression was invalid.

Kennedy’s lawyers have made a legal request for a hearing in front of the full circuit. It will be up to the judges to determine whether the case merits review. It is very unlikely that they will hear the case. In 2016, only 19 out of 810 petitions in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals were granted hearings.

Kennedy’s only other option is to appeal to the United States Supreme Court

Wallin & Klarich Wants to Hear from You

What do you think of Coach Kennedy taking a knee to pray on the field after a high school football game? Should he have a right to pray despite the fact that he is representing the school at the time he performs his prayer? Is the school right to fire him after he refused to stop praying on the field?

We want to hear your thoughts regarding this controversial topic. Please let us know your opinions in the comments section below.





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