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Bremerton coach’s lawsuit over praying at games suffers another court defeat

Former Bremerton coach Joe Kennedy. (AP)

Former Bremerton High School football coach Joe Kennedy says he will file another appeal following his latest defeat in court over praying on the sidelines.

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This comes after a U.S. Court of Appeals panel declined to re-hear his case on Monday, leaving a previous 9th District Court ruling in place, which stated that the Bremerton School District did not violate Kennedy’s religious and free speech rights when they told him not to pray with students after games on the football field.

Kennedy had first made headlines for refusing the school’s request to cease prayer on the sidelines in 2017. Ultimately, the school district decided not to renew his contract.

Kennedy then sued, asking to be reinstated. After losing in district court, he filed his case with the Supreme Court in 2019. Justices ultimately declined to hear the case, ruling that while some of them did not necessarily agree with the lower court’s ruling, the case would be difficult to continue on factual grounds.

According to former Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna, that’s because the lower district court did not explicitly detail whether Coach Kennedy was fired for praying, or for encouraging students to engage in a religious activity, which is against school policy.

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“Students can form Bible study groups, prayer groups, Muslim students can get together and organize prayers during the day,” McKenna told KIRO Radio in 2019. “As long as they are doing it on their own, it’s fine. It’s when staff gets involved … as agents of the government, you get to a problem here.”

Kennedy and his lawyers plan to continue their legal battle, and will appeal Monday’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court for a second time.

The KIRO Radio Newsdesk contributed to this report

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