An appeals court ruled on Wednesday that a high school coach was not protected under the Constitution to pray on the field after football games.
Joseph Kennedy, a Christian assistant football coach at Bremerton High School, would pray on one knee after the school games, and was also known to have led motivational meetings with students and staff with religious content. However, he was eventually suspended by the school for his actions, and was not rehired after his contract expired in 2016.
Kennedy and his attorneys requested an injunction from a U.S. District Court that would allow him to return to his former position as assistant coach. However, the District Court declined, and Kennedy then appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The appeals court also ruled against Kennedy, arguing that he acted in his capacity as an employee of the school when offering those prayers in public.
"By kneeling and praying on the 50-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," the majority opinion, written by Judge Milan Smith, read.
The school district released a statement following the decision, saying it "appreciates the well-reasoned decision."
Meanwhile, First Liberty, the legal group which has been representing Kennedy in court, criticized the decision.
"By refusing to allow any public displays, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is effectively saying it is unconstitutional for a coach to make the sign of the cross or bow his head in prayer when a player is hurt," Jeremy Dys, deputy general counsel for First Liberty, told the Kitsap Sun. "That is not the America contemplated by our Constitution."