Tuesday, July 20, 2021

9th Circuit Denies En Banc Review Of Football Coach's Challenge To Dismissal For On-Field Prayer

In Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, (9th Cir., July 19, 2021), the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a sua sponte request for a rehearing en banc in the case of a high school football coach who insisted on prominently praying at the 50-yard line immediately after football games. A 3-judge panel upheld upheld a Washington state school board's dismissal of the coach. (See prior posting.) The denial of the rehearing however generated six concurring and dissenting opinions and statements spanning 92 pages, reflecting sharp differences. Judge Smith's opinion concurring in the denial of review says in part:

Unlike Odysseus, who was able to resist the seductive song of the Sirens by being tied to a mast and having his shipmates stop their ears with bees’ wax, our colleague, Judge O’Scannlain, appears to have succumbed to the Siren song of a deceitful narrative of this case spun by counsel for Appellant, to the effect that Joseph Kennedy, a Bremerton High School (BHS) football coach, was disciplined for holding silent, private prayers. That narrative is false.... [T]he reader should know the following basic truth ab initio: Kennedy was never disciplined by BHS for offering silent, private prayers.

Senior Judge O'Scannlain, joined in full by 5 other judges and in part by two more, said in part:

It is axiomatic that teachers do not “shed” their First Amendment protections “at the schoolhouse gate.”... Yet the opinion in this case obliterates such constitutional protections by announcing a new rule that any speech by a public school teacher or coach, while on the clock and in earshot of others, is subject to plenary control by the government. Indeed, we are told that, from the moment public high school football coach Joseph Kennedy arrives at work until the very last of his players has gone home after a game, the Free Speech Clause simply doesn’t apply to him.

First Liberty announced that an appeal will be filed with the U.S. Supreme Court.