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Former Bremerton coach who prayed on field loses appeal to get job back

Former Bremerton High School coach Joe Kennedy lost an appeal to get his job back. The coach was dismissed when he defied orders to stop praying on the football field following games.

BREMERTON — Joe Kennedy, the former assistant Bremerton High assistant football coach suing the school district over prayer on the field, has hit a legal roadblock.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has denied an appeal that would have kept alive Kennedy's petition to regain his job while his suit to allow prayer on the field after games is making its way through the courts.

In August, a three-judge panel of the court ruled that the Bremerton School District did not have to reinstate Kennedy. He was placed on paid leave from the job in 2015 for refusing to obey an order from administrators that he cease praying on the football field following games. Kennedy had also been leading students and coaching staff in locker room prayer since 2008. Kennedy's contract was not renewed in 2016.

The case made national headlines and put the district in the media spotlight.

In its ruling, the Ninth Circuit panel wrote that Kennedy “spoke as a public employee, not as a private citizen when he kneeled and prayed on the fifty-yard line immediately after games in school-logoed attire while in view of students and parents.”

Kennedy's attorneys argue that denying his right pray on the field after games is equivalent to denying school employees the right to wear a crucifix, yarmulke or hijab. The district has said that its policies do not prohibit employees from wearing religious garb.

Kennedy was seeking an en banc review from the Ninth Circuit Court, a hearing in front of the full circuit that could have overruled the panel's decision.

Kennedy's legal team vows to take his case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Just as with the Ninth Circuit Court, however, there is no guarantee the Supreme Court will accept his case.

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