Supreme Court upholds high school football coach who lost his job for praying after a game

Washington – The Supreme Court on Monday ruled in favor of a former high school former football coach in western Washington. He lost his job after prayer 50-yard-line after games.

Court Ruled 6-3 Ideologically the First Amendment’s free exercise and free speech rules protect a person engaging in religious expression. Judge Neil Korsch, Kennedy v. He gave his opinion to the majority in a case known as the Bremerton School District.

“The best of constitutional law and our traditions advocate mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and oppression, are the same for religious and secular views,” Korsch wrote.

The controversy involving Joseph Kennedy, a former Bremerton high school assistant football coach, stood at the meeting of the founding clause of the First Amendment and the free speech and free fitness sections, while Kennedy’s lawyers argued that the school district’s punishment for his religious expression violated his constitution. Rights. The school district, meanwhile, learned of Kennedy’s post-game prayers and warned that his actions could violate the Constitution, which prohibits the government from recognizing a religion.

The court battle, which included Kennedy’s post – match prayers in midfield, drew summaries of court friends, including former NFL players and professional and college players who landed on both sides of the debate.

Writing for the Liberal Minorities on Monday, Judge Sonia Sodomier said the constitution did not authorize public schools to accept Kennedy’s conduct, and that the majority’s opinion rejects “long-standing concerns” surrounding the government’s approval of religion.

“Authorities-led prayer strikes at the center of our constitutional defense for the religious freedom of students and their parents, as embodied in both the founding clause of the First Amendment and the free exercise clause,” wrote Justices Stephen Fryer and Sotomayor. Elena Kagan. “The court now lists a different path, but again focuses almost exclusively on the protection of the free exercise rule for individual religious practice, while at the same time making a narrow change to the ban on the institutional clause establishing religion by the state.”

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Prayer football coach
Joseph Kennedy, a former assistant football coach at Bremerton High School in Washington, D.C., photographing the school’s football field on March 9, 2022.

Ted S. Warren / AB


Kelly Shackleford, chairman of the First Liberty Committee, which represented Kennedy, celebrated the Supreme Court ruling, saying it was a “tremendous victory” for her and for religious freedom.

“Our Constitution protects the right of every American to engage in personal religious expression, including prayer in public, without fear of dismissal,” Shackleford said in a statement.

But Rachel Laser, president and CEO of American United for Church and State Separation, warned that the court’s decision “represents the greatest loss of religious freedom for generations.”

“Today, the court continued its attack on the church-state division by falsely describing compulsory prayer as’ private ‘and suspending public schools from protecting students’ religious freedom,” he said in a statement. “The erosion of the line between church and state is not a coincidence. Many of the rights we cherish are accompanied by catastrophic losses. As that line is blurred, public education, reproductive rights, civil liberties and many more are under attack.”

The Bremerton School District said it will continue to work to ensure an “inclusive environment that welcomes all students, their families and all of our staff.”

Following his first game as coach of the Bremerton Knights, Kennedy began praying for the first time after playing football in August 2008. After a brief thank you to God after the final whistle, his prayer began first, and the players soon began to play with Kennedy, the participation varying from week to week. At least one parent said he was “forced to participate” for fear his son would lose play time.

Prayers also evolved from brief, personal expressions of gratitude to inspiring speeches with religious references.

Kennedy’s practice of praying on the field continued for seven years without any problems. The Bremerton School District learned of what the coach was doing in September 2015, when the coach of the opposing team told the headmaster of the high school that Kennedy had asked his players to join him in post-game prayer, and he thought it was “very nice”. Allow such operation.

But the observation sparked a year-long war between Kennedy and the school district, with the coach arguing that he was engaging in constitutionally protected religious expression, and the school district’s defenders said the coach acted as an agent of the state as a public school. The employee violated the religious freedom of students who felt pressured to pray.

After the district told him that his speeches with students should be secular and that his future religious activities should be separate from any student activities, Kennedy stopped engaging in his post-game prayers, but he resumed training in October 2015.

The school district allowed Kennedy on administrative leave for violating its orders, and Bremerton’s athletic director recommended that he not be hired next season, failing to follow district policy and failing to monitor student-athletes after games.

Kennedy chose not to reapply for his internship at Bremerton High School, and sued the district in August 2016 for violating his right to amend the law.


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The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the school district, and Kennedy appealed to the Supreme Court for the first time. In 2019, the High Court dismissed his case, saying four of the court’s conservative judges were anticipating the court’s consideration of the legal battle.

After further proceedings, Kennedy again lost in the lower courts. He asked the Supreme Court to hear the case a second time, and in January the judges agreed to do so.

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