Coach Joe Kennedy appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court to protect his first amendment right to practice his religion on Wednesday. They ruled against him, issuing an opinion that Bremerton High School had the right to fire him for engaging in private prayer for 15-30 seconds after each high school game.
Attorney Jeremy Dys, whose firm represents Kennedy, said it “looked like he was tying this shoe from a long distance” on today’s “Chris Salcedo Show.” Eventually players joined their coach in the prayer, which attracted the attention of an opposing team’s coach after several years had passed.
That coach contacted the school district, who asked Coach Kennedy to modify his behavior. He initially did, then applied for an exemption under the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He then engaged in silent prayer that others joined of their own accord. This eventually led the school district to fail to renew his contract after placing him on leave.
The District Court sided with the school district when Kennedy filed a discrimination suit, and the 9th U.S. Circuit, in turn, upheld their ruling. Dys told Salcedo that the court's ruling against the Marine corps veteran was “deeply disappointing” and has “far reaching” implications for other teachers and coaches.
The court, he said, ruled that “any outward displays of religion” are banned on campus, but what if the coach is going about his or her business wearing a sweatshirt with the campus logo on it? Can a Jewish coach wear a yarmulke on the sidelines? Can a teacher even wear a crucifix around her neck?
Dys told Chris that sometimes kids link arms in prayer when their kicker attempts a field goal. “Do coaches have to run off the field [when they do that] now?” he asked.