Centralia High School football players surround Joe Kennedy, then-assistant football coach for Bremerton High School, for a prayer on the 50-yard line Oct. 16, 2015. A 9th Circuit Court of Appeals judge brought up this photo when Kennedy’s lawyer, Rebekah Ricketts, said they were fighting for Kennedy’s right to “pray quietly and alone.” (Chris Tucker / Kitsap News Group 2015)

Kennedy seeks rehearing with entire circuit court

BREMERTON — A month after three judges of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied former Bremerton High School football coach Joe Kennedy’s bid to overturn the dismissal of his lawsuit against the Bremerton School District, Kennedy and his First Liberty Institute lawyers have decided their next step.

Kennedy and his legal team filed a petition Sept. 21 requesting the case be considered by the entire circuit court — 11 judges, including the chief judge.

To sum up The Bremerton School District chose not to renew Kennedy’s coaching contract after he refused to stop praying on the 50-yard line after games, in public view as a public employee. The district said Kennedy’s post-game prayer on school grounds made it appear the public school district was giving special consideration to a specific religion in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Kennedy and his lawyers sued on Aug. 8, 2016, asking that he be reinstated as the assistant football coach. On Sept. 19, 2016, U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Leighton denied Kennedy’s request for a preliminary injunction — an order requiring the school district to reinstate him. Kennedy, who is represented by the First Liberty Institute, filed an appeal Oct. 3, 2016.

The circuit court heard arguments from both sides on June 12, and ruled in favor of the school district.

“An en banc rehearing by the Ninth Circuit is necessary, given the extreme, far-reaching opinion issued by the three-judge panel,” said Mike Berry, a lawyer with First Liberty Institute. “If the current decision stands, a teacher could be fired for wearing a yarmulke to school. A coach could be fired for bowing his head in prayer when a player is hurt.”

In the opinion issued by the circuit court Aug. 23, Judge Milan Smith wrote, “While we ‘recognize the important role that public worship plays in many communities, as well as the sincere desire to include public prayer as a part of [these] occasions,’ such activity can promote disunity along religious lines, and risks alienating valued community members from an environment that must be open and welcoming to all,” quoting the published opinion on the 2000 lawsuit Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe.

First Liberty Institute President and CEO Kelly Shackelford said in response: “Banning coaches from praying just because they can be seen is wrong and contradicts the Constitution. We hope the Ninth Circuit will recognize the significance of this case. The future of private prayer hangs in the balance.”

Berry said in an interview following the publication of the circuit court’s opinion, “We’re disappointed. We believed and continue to believe that the facts are on our side and the law is on our side. We knew it was going to be difficult … Unfortunately, in this case, the court did not rule in our favor. That’s not going to stop us from fighting for religious liberty.”

If the petition for an en banc hearing is denied, there are other options. After the initial opinion was published, Berry said they could also ask the Supreme Court to review the case, or “simply go back to trial.”

To read previous coverage of this issue, visit:

Aug. 24, 2017: Circuit court rules in favor of Bremerton School District, against former coach, in appeal

June 14, 2017: Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals hearing focused on three key points

June 9, 2017: Kennedy’s case goes to Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals June 12

Sept. 22, 2016: Kennedy’s preliminary injunction denied by U.S. District Court judge

Aug. 11, 2016: Former coach Kennedy files lawsuit against Bremerton School District

Dec. 15, 2015: Coach Kennedy files religious discrimination charge against the Bremerton School District

Nov. 13, 2015: Public comments on public prayer

Oct. 26, 2015: Satanic Temple offers to hold invocations after next football game

Oct. 26, 2015: Kennedy to file lawsuit against school district over post-game prayers

Oct. 22, 2015: School board and public comments on post-game prayer

Oct. 17, 2015: Centralia football team joins Bremerton coach in prayer

Oct. 14, 2015: Kennedy to resume prayers with football team

Sept. 18, 2015: Football coach won’t be fired; can’t participate in post-game prayers

Sept. 16, 2015: Post-game prayers at center of controversy

Michelle Beahm is online editor for Kitsap News Group. She can be reached at mbeahm@soundpublishing.com.

Centralia High School football players surround Joe Kennedy, then-assistant football coach for Bremerton High School, for a prayer on the 50-yard line Oct. 16, 2015. A 9th Circuit Court of Appeals judge brought up this photo when Kennedy’s lawyer, Rebekah Ricketts, said they were fighting for Kennedy’s right to “pray quietly and alone.” (Chris Tucker / Kitsap News Group 2015)

More in News

Families drive through to pick up materials, meals in BI

Lines of cars wrapped around Sonoji Sakai Intermediate School Friday as families… Continue reading

State economy gains jobs in August

The Evergreen State’s economy had another positive month of job gains and… Continue reading

Man arrested on drug, firearms charges

A Port Angeles man was arrested Tuesday in Port Gamble on suspicion… Continue reading

Taught remotely, students’ lights still burn bright

Learning continues in novel ways, even without a traditional classroom

Contact tracing effective in reducing COVID-19 spread, KPHD says

Contact tracing is triggered when a person tests positive for COVID-19

Residential, commercial property value notices going out Monday

‘Change of value’ notifications being distributed by Kitsap County assessor

Burglary, ID theft charges filed in court against Doll

Port Orchard suspect stands before Kitsap County Superior Court judge Thursday

Redmond captain now Poulsbo police chief

Ron Harding has been named the new Poulsbo police chief, Mayor Becky… Continue reading

Marion Forsman-Boushie Early Learning Center balances caring for big and little kids

The Marion Forsman-Boushie Early Learning Center in Suquamish has had to make… Continue reading

Most Read