Spring 2021 Magazine

High school football coach Joe Kennedy denied job for praying at 50-yard line

High school football coach Joe Kennedy lost his legal battle against a Washington state school district for leading prayers at the 50-yard line.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Bremerton School District was within its rights to punish Kennedy, not renewing his contract in 2015. The three-judge panel denied Kennedy’s denial of preliminary injunctive relief who alleged that the school district retaliated against him for exercising his First Amendment rights when they suspended him for kneeling and praying of the 50-yard line in view of students and parents immediately after the games.

Below is an excerpt from the panel’s ruling:

“The panel held that plaintiff spoke as a public employee, not as a private citizen when he kneeled and prayed on the fifty-yard line immediately after games in school logoed- attire while in view of students and parents. The panel held that plaintiff had a professional responsibility to communicate demonstratively to students and spectators and he took advantage of his position to press his particular views upon the impressionable and captive minds before him. The panel held that because plaintiff’s demonstrative speech fell within the scope of his typical job responsibilities, he spoke as a public employee, and the district was permitted to order him not to speak in the manner that he did. Plaintiff accordingly could not show a likelihood of success on the merits of his First Amendment retaliation claim, and was not entitled to a preliminary injunction.”

Kennedy started praying after games in 2008 and was under fire by the school district for pre-game prayers in 2015. According to TheBlaze, it is not known if Kennedy will appeal the court’s decision.