Washington State High School Football Coach Fired After Refusing to Stop Praying On the Field

by Emily Morgan

A former high school football coach is fighting for his faith after being fired for praying on the field. Joe Kennedy is now taking his case to the Supreme Court after losing his court appeal case on Monday.

Kennedy has alleged that Bremerton School District violated his first amendment rights after school authorities told him to end his prayer. At the time, he was praying alongside his team’s players.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit refused to hear his case. The court cited earlier arguments that challenged a ruling by a district court in favor of the school district.

“We will appeal. We are confident that the Supreme Court of the United States will right this wrong,” said Jeff Mateer, Kennedy’s lawyer. “Banning coaches from praying just because they can be seen contradicts the Constitution.”

In 2015, the school suspended and then fired Kennedy after refusing to stop saying prayers on the field while working.

The coach’s post-game prayers started with him praying alone to himself on the field, and then the players joined him. The school alleges it never disciplined Kennedy for silently praying and was happy about the Court’s decision.

“The Ninth Circuit made the right call. The Bremerton School District was correct to protect the religious freedom of its students and their families,” Richard Katskee, the school’s legal counsel said.

“The Constitution requires public schools to provide an inclusive and welcoming environment for all students. That includes ensuring that student-athletes don’t feel compelled to pray or participate in religious activities to secure their place on a team.”

High School Football Coach Fights for Freedom to Pray

The Ninth Circuit stated that Kennedy “spoke as a public employee,” which keeps him from engaging in any religious practice. Kennedy’s case isn’t the first brought before the High Court. In 2019, the Court sent back his case to the lower courts. It stated it needed more facts to examine.

“Coach Kennedy has been denied the freedom to coach for over five years, but he’s never been a quitter,” Mateer said.

They added: “We are very confident, in light of Justice Alito’s previous statement regarding this case, that the Court will take this case and side with religious freedom.

We anticipate asking the Court to take the case later in the fall,” added First Liberty Institute’s General Counsel, Hiram Sasser.

Bremerton School District’s legal team is calling on the Supreme court to throw out the case again.

“If the Supreme Court is interested in a case about personal, private religious activity by public-school employees, this just isn’t that case,” Katskee said. “And it certainly shouldn’t have any stomach for undermining the religious freedom of the students and their families.”