Supreme Court sides with praying football coach criticized by appeals court for pushing 'deceitful narrative' about his case
Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch's planned speech at a hotel owned by Donald Trump, has been criticized as a conflict of interest (AFP Photo/SAUL LOEB)

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that public school officials had a right to pray during school events.

The 6-3 ruling in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District sided with an assistant high school football coach in Washington state who prayed with students after games for eight years, and he also led prayers in the locker room, and his contract was ultimately not renewed a year after the school board asked him to stop, reported the New York Times.

"He offered his prayers quietly while his students were otherwise occupied," wrote justice Neil Gorsuch for the majority. "Still, the Bremerton School District disciplined him anyway. It did so because it thought anything less could lead a reasonable observer to conclude (mistakenly) that it endorsed Mr. Kennedy’s religious beliefs. That reasoning was misguided. Both the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment protect expressions like Mr. Kennedy’s."

Kennedy, a coach for Bremerton High School in Washington state, began a ritual in 2008 where he would pray on the field at the final whistle.

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But the school told the Christian military veteran to bring an end to the custom in 2015 after players began joining in -- arguing that he was violating its ban on staff encouraging students to pray.

He was placed on administrative leave when he defied the order and did not reapply for his job after his contract ended soon after, opting instead to sue the school district.

The school's lawyers and Kennedy's lawyers offered dramatically different accounts of what happened in his final months on the job, and a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit criticized the "deceitful narrative" created by the coach's legal team.

Education officials say they supported Kennedy's religious rights -- offering him private places for prayer -- but could not allow his post-game ritual, which could be perceived as the school endorsing religion.

The appeals court found that Kennedy had never been disciplined for offering private prayers, but instead “prayed out loud in the middle of the football field” after one game surrounded by players, parents and members of the opposing team, as well as a local politician and reporters, after his intent to pray was broadcast through local news and social media.

With additional reporting by AFP

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