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Fired for Praying: Federal Judge Sides with School District's Firing of High School Coach

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A Washington state high school football coach has lost another round in his battle against a school district that fired him almost five years ago for his "silent" post-game prayers on the 50-yard line.

On Thursday, Federal District Court Judge Ronald Leighton granted the Bremerton (WA) School District's motion for summary judgment in the case of Coach Joe Kennedy.  

Kennedy and his legal team plan to appeal the decision.

In 2015, Kennedy was fired by the Bremerton School District for kneeling on the 50-yard line after football games and silently praying. As CBN News has reported, the post-game prayers caught on, spilling over to his players and even to opposing teams.

School officials worried that those prayers might give the appearance that the district approved of Coach Kennedy's public prayers, creating a potential endorsement of religion. They eventually fired Kennedy, who calls that a violation of his right to free speech.

Kennedy told CBN News in December that his prayers were never mandatory.

"I had some parents who said, 'I don't want my kid involved with that.' And I respected that. That is their right as a parent," Kennedy said. "It was never a forced thing. It was never an asked thing."

Kennedy's case attracted nationwide attention from the media, Hall of Fame coaches and players, and even President Trump. In January, President Trump invited Kennedy to the Oval Office as he announced new actions to protect religious freedom in America's public schools.

"We are disappointed in this decision, but we are undeterred in our mission to obtain justice for Coach Kennedy," said Mike Berry, general counsel for First Liberty Institute. "For almost five long years Joe has had to miss coaching the game he loves. 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. He knows this fight isn't over."

Last January, the Supreme Court declined to reverse a previous decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upholding Kennedy's 2015 firing. However, in a separate statement filed by Justice Alito and joined by Justices Thomas, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh, the justices explained that the court needed more information in order to resolve the matter. 

As the four justices wrote, "the Ninth Circuit's understanding of the free speech rights of public school teachers is troubling and may justify review in the future." The case then returned to the district court for further review, prompting Thursday's decision.

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