The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that a Washington school district had the right to stop its football coach from leading its students in prayer.
Former Bremerton High School coach Joe Kennedy would routinely kneel down at the 50-yard line after every game and lead the students in a prayer. The students were forced to participate. This created the impression that the school district endorsed Kennedy’s faith. Bremerton’s superintendent asked Kennedy to move the prayers to a private location.
Kennedy did not listen and continued to hold the prayers on the field, so he was put on administrative leave in 2015. He didn’t reapply for the job after his contract expired that season.
Kennedy sued saying that the school violated his constitutional rights. He took the case public and tried to play the victim. In reality, it was Bremerton’s students who had their constitutional rights violated. However, Religious Right groups rallied around Kennedy. Kennedy was even invited to speak at a Trump campaign rally a month before the election.
Judge Milan D. Smith Jr. wrote in his opinion for the court:
“On Friday nights, many cities and towns across America temporarily shut down while communities gather to watch high school football games. Students and families from all walks of life join ‘to root for a common cause.’ While we ‘recognize the important role that public worship plays in many communities, as well as the sincere desire to include public prayer as a part of [these] occasions,’ such activity can promote disunity along religious lines, and risks alienating valued community members from an environment that must be open and welcoming to all.”
“[B]y kneeling and praying on the fifty-yard line immediately after games while in view of students and parents, Kennedy was sending a message about what he values as a coach, what the District considers appropriate behavior, and what students should believe, or how they ought to behave.”
This is a major victory for the separation of church and state.
Featured image via Twitter.