Federal Judge Rules Against High School Coach Who Led Students in Prayer

‘For almost five long years Joe has had to miss coaching the game he loves…’

Federal Judge Rules Against High School Coach Who Led Students in Prayer

Joe Kennedy / IMAGE: USA Today via Youtube

(Claire Russel, Liberty Headlines) A federal judge ruled against a Washington high school football coach who was fired for leading his students in prayer on the field.

U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Leighton ruled that the Bremerton School District was within its rights to fire former assistant coach Joe Kennedy in 2015 after he refused its requests to stop his post-game prayers.

Kennedy had sued the school district, alleging religious discrimination. But Leighton denied his request.

“Although the court is sympathetic to Kennedy’s desire to follow his beliefs, the former right must give way to the [school district] in this case,” Leighton wrote, according to KVAL-TV. “The court therefore grants defendant Bremerton School District’s motion for summary judgment and denies Kennedy’s motion.”

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Kennedy and his legal team plan to appeal the decision, according to a press release, and although they are “disappointed in this decision, we are undeterred in our mission to obtain justice for Coach Kennedy,” said Mike Berry, an attorney with the First Liberty Institute.

An atheist group, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, argued that Kennedy’s prayers were “a clear violation of religious freedom, forcing kids to choose between their own beliefs and appeasing the man who decides the lineup for the game.”

But Kennedy argued that he never once forced a student or player to participate in his post-game prayers.

“For almost five long years Joe has had to miss coaching the game he loves,” Berry said in a statement. “Joe has fought—first as a U.S. Marine, then as a coach—to prove that every American has the right to engage in individual religious expression, including praying in public, without fear of getting fired.”

Last January, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Kennedy’s case, but the First Liberty Institute said it is still hopeful Leighton’s ruling will be overturned.