Judges rule on-field prayer not protected by Constitution

August 24, 2017 / Athletic AdministrationCoaching
A Washington state high school football coach who was suspended over his on-field prayer routine will not be reinstated by the school after an appellate court ruled against him.

Joe Kennedy, an assistant football coach at Bremerton High School from 2008 to 2015, regularly prayed before and after games. The ritual grew to include players and other coaches until the school stepped in and ordered him to stop. He initially complied, praying alone after games, but he again started including players and coaches until the school placed him on administrative leave.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that student-led prayer at football games is a violation of the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment, and public school districts have widely used that decision to regulate prayer at all school-sanctioned events. 

From the Los Angeles Times:

Kennedy charged in his lawsuit that the school violated his 1st Amendment rights.

Disagreeing, the 9th Circuit panel said the fact that Kennedy insisted on praying in front of students and parents showed his speech was directed at least in part to others, not solely to God.

“When Kennedy kneeled and prayed on the fifty-yard line immediately after games while in view of students and parents, he spoke as a public employee, not as a private citizen, and his speech therefore was constitutionally unprotected,” wrote the 9th Circuit, upholding a decision by a district court judge.

The issue of prayer at high school sanctioned events has been a contentious one in recent years. Earlier this year, a Florida school lost its lawsuit against the state athletic association after arguing its constitutional rights were violated when it wasn’t allowed to lead a prayer over a stadium’s public address system.

In 2015, The Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association adopted a policy that permitted a moment of silence before games, which can be used for private prayer, but schools continue to be barred from using the loudspeakers.

Click here to read more from the L.A. Times.

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