On Friday, the Supreme Court announced that it will hear oral arguments in the case of former Washington high school football coach Joe Kennedy, who was fired in 2015 after praying postgame with players on the team.
"No teacher or coach should lose their job for simply expressing their faith while in public," stated First Liberty president and Kelly Shackelford who is representing Kennedy in the case Kennedy v. Bremerton School District.
"By taking this important case, the Supreme Court can protect the right of every American to engage in private religious expression, including praying in public, without fear of punishment," Shackelford said via statement.
"We look forward to presenting the Coach’s case, which goes to the heart of the First Amendment, to the Justices," concurred Paul Clement, former US Solicitor General, partner at Kirkland & Ellis LLP, and First Liberty volunteer attorney.
Kennedy said that he hopes to return to coaching. "Six years away from the football field has been far too long. I am extremely grateful that the Supreme Court is going to hear my case and pray that I will soon be able to be back on the field coaching the game and players I love," said Kennedy in the press release.
Rachel Laser, the CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, took a different view on the case, opposing the SCOTUS announcement.
"No child attending public school should have to pray to play school sports. No student should ever be made to feel excluded – whether it’s in the classroom or on the football field – because they don't share the religious beliefs of their coaches, teachers or fellow students," stated Laser in a statement Friday.
The Daily Wire reported on Kennedy's case when it was turned down in 2019:
"Kennedy also led prayers with the team before and after games, but court documents note the tradition predated his employment and that his religion didn’t require him to lead such prayers, but did require him to give thanks after each game," the Daily Wire reported, summarizing the case according to court documents. "As Kennedy kneeled and prayed after each game, members of the team began to join him until a majority of the team was also praying. Members of the opposing team were also invited to join. Kennedy eventually began giving mid-field motivational speeches after the games that included religious messaging."
On Sept. 17, 2015, Bremerton School District (BSD) sent Kennedy a letter informing he would be investigated for breaking the school's policy on "Religious-Related Activities and Practices," which stated that students may "engage in private, non-disruptive prayer at any time not in conflict with learning activities" and "[s]chool staff shall neither encourage nor discourage a student from engaging in non-disruptive oral or silent prayer or any other form of devotional activity," the Daily Wire reported. Kennedy cooperated with the investigation and was told the postgame prayers were "problematic," and that he must stop including religious content in the motivational speeches, per the Daily Wire's reporting.
Kennedy stopped praying on the field while students and fans were around for several weeks, but on Oct. 14, 2015, he asked for a religious accommodation under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, stating that "official coaching duties ceased" postgame.
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