The Supreme Court said late last week that it will hear the case of a Washington high school football coach who lost his job after praying with players and coaches.
Joseph Kennedy, an assistant coach at Bremerton High School, said he was “called” to offer private prayers to players and coaches of both teams in 2015, according to the Washington Post. An opposing coach filed a complaint about Kennedy’s postgame prayers and Kennedy and the school district went on to battle “over accommodations of his religious exercise.”
Kennedy ultimately did not return to the school after 2015, as he worked as an assistant coach on a contract that was evaluated at the end of each year.
Kennedy’s legal battle with the Bremerton school district has raged on since 2015. He has lost twice before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, with the case splitting the judges. Kennedy’s case reached the Supreme Court in 2019, but justices declined to take it on, saying the lower courts had more to decide. However, four justices indicated that they were interested in the issue and could hear the case at a later date.
Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. questioned the Ninth Circuit’s decision, saying that its language could “be understood to mean that a coach’s duty to serve as a good role model requires the coach to refrain from any manifestation of religious faith — even when the coach is plainly not on duty. I hope that this is not the message that the Ninth Circuit meant to convey.” Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh backed Alito Jr.
Kennedy will be represented by religious legal group First Liberty Institute, and Bremerton by Americans United for Separation of Church and State when the case is heard before the Supreme Court.
“No teacher or coach should lose their job for simply expressing their faith while in public,” said Kelly Shackelford, president and chief executive of First Liberty. “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.”
Americans United, however, say Kennedy and his legal team have misrepresented facts about the case.
“This case is not about a school employee praying silently during a private religious devotion,” Laser said in a statement. “Rather, this case is about protecting impressionable students who felt pressured by their coach to participate repeatedly in public prayer, and a public school district that did right by its students and families.”