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Football Coach to Appeal Ninth Circuit Decision Involving Prayer

December 7th, 2021

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently declined to hear the decision of a three-judge panel that decided a school district in Washington state was permitted to ban a football coach from taking a knee in personal prayer following a football game. This article examines this case and the implications that it could have for religious rights.

How the Football Coach Case Arose

The football coach claimed that his rights were violated under both the First Amendment and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when the district prohibited the coach from praying after football games in the middle of the field, occasionally surrounded by students and other community members. The three-judge panel affirmed a district court’s summary judgment in favor of the school district in a lawsuit initiated by the coach. Concurring in denying a rehearing, a judge addressed the trial court judge’s statements and held that the football coach was never disciplined for offering silent private prayers and that the school district only disciplined him after he demanded the right to pray in the field immediately following games while others were still in the stand. 

The panel also held that the judges were not able to change the Supreme Court’s authoritative ruling in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe. The judges subsequently noted that they disagreed with the suggestion that the panel incorrectly applied the Santa Fe test. The judges additionally noted that the coach did not carry his burden of proof in establishing that he spoke as a private citizen rather than a representative of the school district, which was an independent basis to affirm the district court. 

Perspectives About the Ruling

A representative from the First Liberty Institute, who brought legal action on behalf of the football coach, has already stated that they intend to appeal and remain confident that the United States Supreme Court will issue an opinion that remedies this wrong. The organization has also stated that banning coaches from praying simply because they can be visibly seen goes against the Constitution. Additionally, Coach Kennedy argues that he has been denied the right to coach for more than five years but will continue to wage his fight onward.

In a statement respecting the denial of a rehearing, the judges have stated that the court’s opinion does not infringe on constitutional protections because speech by a public school coach or teacher while employed is subject to government control since such speech can be seen as government endorsement of religion.

Also worth noting is the opinion of the Supreme Court of the United States. The Supreme Court previously declined to review the case and stated that the facts need to be determined and that the coach should be permitted to continue pursuing his case throughout the court system. 

Continue Reading the Universal Life Church’s Blog

Many laws addressing religious rights in the United States originated in the Constitution, but each year many cases question the limits of religious freedom in the country. The Universal Life Church’s blog focuses on documenting these matters in a way that can be easily understood by readers.

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