The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has declined to hear the appeal of a Washington state high school football coach who was fired for kneeling in prayer after games.
Joe Kennedy, the former assistant football coach at Bremerton High School, is now considering an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court after the Ninth Circuit denied his request for an en banc hearing before the entire court on Thursday.
Bremerton school district placed Kennedy on leave in 2015 after he refused to stop praying on the football field at the end of each game.
In August, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit ruled that the district did not have to reinstate Kennedy, arguing that the football coach's public prayer could be seen as a public school endorsement of religion, and thus a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
Kennedy sought a hearing in front of the full circuit court that could have overruled the panel's decision and get him reinstated, but a majority of justices voted to deny the hearing.
"I'm disappointed that the court decided not to rehear my case because it could affect so many other coaches and teachers," Kennedy said in a statement, as reported by Herald Net.
"When I joined the Marines, I swore an oath to defend the Constitution. I never thought that one day I'd have to fight for my own constitutional rights," he added.
Court documents indicated that Kennedy began the practice of praying at the end of football games in 2008. While he waited until everyone was off the field before praying silently, he was frequently joined by members of his team. He was ordered to stop the practice in 2015 following a complaint from an employee with another school district.
When Kennedy continued with his post-game prayer tradition, the school district decided not to renew his contract. He filed a religious discrimination case with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the district and he also filed a suit in the U.S. District Court in August 2016.
"Banning all coaches from praying just because they can be seen is wrong and contradicts the Constitution. We will keep fighting on behalf of Coach Kennedy until his religious liberties are fully restored, including appealing this case to the Supreme Court of the United States," said Kelly Shackelford, President and CEO of First Liberty.
According to Herald Net, Kennedy's main suit in the U.S. District Court was stayed after he petitioned the court to order that he be allowed to work while the case proceeded. The injunction was denied by the lower court, prompting the appeal to the Ninth Circuit.
Patty Glaser, the spokeswoman for Bremerton School District, said that the district is now awaiting Kennedy's decision whether he will petition to the U.S. Supreme Court or proceed with the main case in the district court.