How can it be that in America a coach’s private prayers on a football field after games, without any attempt to coerce anyone to join him, could be ruled unconstitutional?
That’s exactly what’s happened in the case of former Bremerton, Wash., High School assistant football coach Joe Kennedy.
In August, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Kennedy was not constitutionally protected when he took a knee to pray at the 50-yard line after games.
The judges determined that Kennedy “took advantage of his position [as a public school coach and teacher] to press his particular views upon impressionable and captive minds before him.”
Jeremy Dys, deputy general counsel of First Liberty Institute, which legally represents Kennedy, told the Kitsap Sun of Bremerton that the impact of the court’s ruling could be far-reaching.
“By refusing to allow any public displays, the [panel] is effectively saying it is unconstitutional for a coach to make the sign of the cross or bow his head in prayer when a player is hurt. That is not the America contemplated by our Constitution.”
BGEA president Franklin Graham said the ruling is an example of progressive liberal judges going too far.
“We have judges out there who hate God and hate His standards and disrespect the people who follow God,” Graham said on the Todd Starnes Show on Fox News Radio.
Franklin called on high school football coaches around the country to take a stand against the ruling by praying on the field at games on Sept. 1, and for fans to join them in prayer.
Kennedy was suspended by the Bremerton School District in 2015 after he ignored its request to stop kneeling for prayer after games. It was a practice he had done after every game for the previous seven seasons, with no complaints from the school district. Sometimes his players or members of the opposing teams joined him. The complaint came from someone outside the district.
Kennedy, a Marine Corps veteran, eventually was fired by the school district after receiving the only poor performance review of his tenure.
Kennedy has now lost two appeals. As First Liberty weighs options going forward, one possibility is to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.