OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.
The U.S. Supreme Court could deliver a ruling any day on a case involving a former Seattle-area football coach who was fired from his job because he refused to stop praying on the field with players.
When the school district learned that Kennedy was praying with the team, they told him that he could pray separately from the students. Kennedy declined to change his practice, was put on paid leave, and then filed a lawsuit.
Last year, lower courts sided with the school district. The case went before the Supreme Court in April and the decision is being closely watched by many.
During oral arguments two months ago, the Supreme Court’s conservative justices seemed sympathetic to Kennedy.
The Washington Post reported:
Questions from the court’s conservatives indicated they believe the school district has misread the court’s precedents regarding government endorsement of religion and perhaps was hostile to such demonstrations.
Justice Clarence Thomas questioned whether Kennedy would have been disciplined if he had taken a knee during the national anthem to protest racism. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. questioned Katskee, legal director at Americans United for Separation of Church and State, about other political activism.
Suppose “when Coach Kennedy went out to the center of the field … all he did was to wave a Ukrainian flag. Would you have fired him?” Alito asked.
Katskee said the school district could discipline a coach for such actions because it “doesn’t want its event taken over for political speech.”
“Where is the school district rule that says that?” Alito demanded.
“No teacher or coach should lose their job for simply expressing their faith while in public,” Kelly Shackelford, president, and CEO of First Liberty, who is representing the case, said in a statement.
“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,” he added.
“Paul Clement, former U.S. Solicitor General, partner at Kirkland & Ellis LLP and First Liberty volunteer attorney, said, ‘We look forward to presenting the Coach’s case, which goes to the heart of the First Amendment, to the Justices,'” the Daily Wire reported. “Joe Kennedy’s case, now six years after the events, has led to renewed optimism by the coach who still desires to return to the football sidelines.”
“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,” Kennedy said in the statement.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State criticized the decision in a statement.
“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,” Americans United President and CEO Rachel Laser said.
“The Bremerton School District followed the law and protected students’ religious freedom when it stopped its football coach from holding coercive prayers with players on the 50-yard line after high school football games,” Laser added. “Public schoolchildren and their families – like all of us – have a constitutional right to believe as they choose and be treated equally by their public schools, regardless of their beliefs. The Bremerton School District fulfilled its legal duty to respect their fundamental rights.
BREAKING! SCOTUS announced it will hear Coach Kennedy’s case. This is the final play of a long legal battle. He was fired for silently praying on the football field. A victory could impact all government employees and also change the way courts consider religious freedom. pic.twitter.com/kYgl5SZ7pS
— First Liberty Institute (@1stLiberty) January 14, 2022