Famed evangelist Franklin Graham has called on high school football coaches across the U.S. to kneel in prayer on Friday in support of coach Joe Kennedy, who was suspended by the Bremerton School District in Washington in 2015 for praying after games.
On Wednesday, Kennedy lost his two-year court battle against the Bremerton School District, after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the district was justified in suspending him, stating that the students could be influenced by the coach's behavior.
The three-judge panel argued that Kennedy's speech was not constitutionally protected because he was speaking as a public employee, not as a private citizen, when he kneeled in prayer after games.
In a radio interview with Fox News' Todd Starnes on Thursday, Graham expressed his disappointment with the decision but said that he was not really surprised by it.
"It's sad this has happened but it really doesn't surprise me. We find these courts and these judges are making these decisions against the will of the people. We have judges out there who hate God and hate His standards and disrespect the people who follow God," the evangelist stated.
He then issued a call to football coaches across the country to pray at the next game that will be held on Friday.
"At next Friday night's game, on Sept. 1, I think it would be great if football coaches across the country went out on the field wherever they are and prayed. And those there to watch the game stand in prayer with them," Graham wrote in a Facebook post on Friday morning. "Let's show our support for coach Kennedy, a former Marine who didn't back down on prayer," he added.
The football coach was suspended in 2015 after defying school officials and continued his practice of praying after games. The district did not rehire him when his contract expired.
First Liberty Institute, which represents Kennedy, sued the district to have Kennedy reinstated in time for the 2016 football season, but its request was denied by a district court last October.
In June, First Liberty attorney Jeremy Dys said that should the Ninth Circuit rule against the football coach, the legal group would first ask for a rehearing en banc, which would allow all nine judges at the Ninth Circuit to hear the case again. The Institute said that its next step will be to file an appeal at the U.S. Supreme Court if the Ninth Circuit still rules against Kennedy.