Friday, March 19, 2021

9th Circuit: Football Coach's Past-Game Prayers Violate Establishment Clause

In Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, (9th Cir., March 18, 2021), the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Washington state school board's dismissal of a high school football coach who insisted on prominently praying at the 50-yard line immediately after football games. The long-running high-profile case was before the 9th Circuit for the second time. (See prior posting.) The court issued a Summary of its decision along with the opinion, saying in part:

The panel held that the record before it and binding Supreme Court precedent compelled the conclusion that the District would have violated the Establishment Clause by allowing Kennedy to engage in the religious activity he sought. Kennedy’s attempts to draw nationwide attention to his challenge to the District showed that he was not engaging in private prayer. Instead, he was engaging in public speech of an overtly religious nature while performing his job duties. The District tried to accommodate Kennedy, but that was spurned by Kennedy insisting that he be allowed to pray immediately after the conclusion of each game, potentially surrounded by students. The panel held that the district court correctly granted summary judgment to the District on Kennedy’s free speech and free exercise claims.

The panel held that Kennedy’s Title VII claims alleging failure to rehire, disparate treatment, failure to accommodate and retaliation also failed.

Judge Christen also issued a concurring opinion, joined by Judge Nelson. Friendly Atheist blog has more on the decision. [Thanks to Mel Kaufman for the lead.]