Federal judges decided this week that a high school football coach had no right to pray on his own on the playing field after games. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that Coach Joe Kennedy of Bremerton, Washington, was acting as a “public employee, not as a private citizen, and his speech therefore was constitutionally unprotected.”
Responding to the case, First Liberty Institute’s President and CEO Kelly Shackelford said, “Banning all coaches from praying individually in public just because they can be seen is wrong.” First Liberty, an NRB member, is representing Coach Kennedy and considering next steps for the case.
Among those who have spoken up for the coach are Members of Congress who, referencing the 2014 Town of Greece v. Galloway Supreme Court decision on public prayer, contended that the coach was in the right regardless of his status as school employee. “That others may choose to join him of their own free will is irrelevant, and an exercise of their own constitutional freedoms,” they said.
Former Congressman Steve Largent (R-Okla.), an NFL Hall of Fame wide receiver who played for the Seattle Seahawks, also defended Kennedy. In a Seattle Times article at the beginning of this case, Largent expressed his admiration for such coaches who help young players like he once was. He added, “This is different from a coach proselytizing and requiring faith of a player. This is a model of a man that should be celebrated by the school district rather than told to hide who he is and what he believes.” Notably, Largent and Chad Hennings, a three-time Super Bowl champion, filed an official court brief in support of Kennedy.
In First Liberty’s reaction to the ruling, Shackelford concluded, “This is not the America contemplated by our Constitution.”
By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations
Published: August 25, 2017