Attorneys plan to try – again – to reinstate a high school football coach who was fired more than five years ago for kneeling to pray after games. They are hopeful their perseverance will eventually right a wrong.
"We'll continue to appeal this, whether that means going to the Ninth Circuit in full, which is called an en banc appeal, or whether taking this to the Supreme Court," says attorney Mike Berry of First Liberty Institute, the law firm representing Coach Joe Kennedy. "We're prepared to do whatever we need to do in order to defend Coach Kennedy and vindicate his rights."
Kennedy lost his job in late 2015 at Bremerton High School in Washington state for praying silently and alone for 15-30 seconds after a football game. Coach Kennedy had been doing this after games, but the school district did not like it and expressed concern that it could be viewed as an endorsement of religion. Still, Kennedy continued and was fired. The issue has been in and out of court ever since. (See One News Now reports on the case)
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case in January 2019 and allowed it to continue through the court system. A year later, a U.S. district court granted the school district's motion for summary judgment. The case was then appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which heard oral argument in January. On Thursday, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit held that the school could ban the coach from taking a knee in brief, personal prayer after games.
"We had hoped for a favorable outcome here," says Berry. "It's also disappointing because the court has essentially said that a public school employee like Coach Kennedy can be fired and the First Amendment doesn't protect them, even though all he was trying to do was have a personal, brief prayer by himself silently on the 50-yard line after football games. [And] he was fired for that."
Meanwhile, Berry says the coach is holding up well. "I certainly don't want to say it's been easy for him, but he's a very tough, resilient guy and he always has a positive outlook," says the attorney. "I think that's going to serve him well here."
First Liberty's page for the Joe Kennedy case