A federal judge ruled last week that a Washington state school was within their rights when they prohibited then-high school football coach Joe Kennedy from kneeling in prayer on the 50-yard line after games.
According to The Christian Post, the case was sent back to a lower court from the U.S. Supreme Court where Federal Judge Ronald Leighton ruled in favor of the Bremerton School District in Washington.
Since 2008, Kennedy established the practice of kneeling in prayer post-game. In 2015, however, the school district suspended him from his position with the Bremerton High School football team after he refused to cease praying.
In 2016, Kennedy sued the school district for violation of “his right to religious expression as a school employee.”
Yet, Leighton denied Kennedy’s injunction request. Kennedy met an additional defeat in 2017 when his case was heard by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Fast forward to last January, Kennedy’s case was refused by the U.S Supreme Court. According to Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, the refusal came out of “unanswered factual questions surrounding the school district’s reasoning for banning the prayer," amid major constitutional issues in Kennedy’s free speech claim.
In an article by the Kitsap Sun, Leighton indicated that religious expression can be prohibited by the school district as it seemingly paints a picture of the government's religious support. However, the government has no place in initiating official religions under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Leighton wrote, “although the court is sympathetic to Kennedy’s desire to follow his beliefs, the former right must give way to the latter in this case.”
According to Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Kennedy’s actions are a “clear violation of religious freedom” because it forces kids to “choose between their own beliefs and appeasing the man who decides the lineup for the game.”
Despite opposition to Kennedy’s stance, he is not without support as he is represented by the First Liberty Institute, a nonprofit legal group who “vowed to again appeal to Leighton’s ruling to the Ninth Circuit.”
First Liberty Institute General Counsel Mike Berry expressed his support for Kennedy in a statement writing, “For almost five long years Joe has had to miss coaching the game he loves. Joe has fought — first as a U.S. Marine, then as a coach — to prove that every American has the right to engage in individual religious expression, including praying in public, without fear of getting fired. He knows this fight isn’t over.”
Additional support included college football coaching legend Bobby Bowden and the late Billy Graham’s son, evangelist Franklin Graham.
Furthermore, President Trump has supported Kennedy since his presidential candidacy. In 2015, Trump tweeted, “support Coach Kennedy and his right, together with his young players, to pray on the football field.”
Kennedy also visited Trump in the Oval Office in January for a ceremony promoting religious freedom. Trump declared that the U.S Department of Education “would inform schools nationwide they can’t prevent teachers or students from praying in public schools.”
Photo courtesy: Ben Hershey/Unsplash
Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer. He is also the co-hosts of the For Your Soul podcast, which seeks to equip the church with biblical truth and sound doctrine. Visit his blog Blessed Are The Forgiven.