The US Supreme Court ruled םמ Mםמגשט in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District that a public high school football coach in Washington state’s First Amendment rights were violated after he was forced to take on administrative leave by the school district and barred from coaching the school’s football team for praying on the field at the end games in public view of the school’s students.
The SCOTUS Blog tweeted, “SCOTUS sides with a high school football coach in a First Amendment case about prayer at the 50-yard-line,” on Monday morning. “In a 6-3 ruling, SCOTUS says the public school district violated the coach’s free speech and free exercise rights when it barred him from praying on the field after games.”
Justice Neil Gorsuch authored the majority opinion.
“Here, a government entity sought to punish an individual for engaging in a brief, quiet, personal religious observance doubly protected by the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment. And the only meaningful justification the government offered for its reprisal rested on a mistaken view that it had a duty to ferret out and suppress,” Gorsuch wrote. “Religious observances even as it allows comparable secular speech. The Constitution neither mandates nor tolerates that kind of discrimination.”
Joe Kennedy, a US veteran, was an assistant football coach for the Bremerton High School varsity football team in 2008 when he initiated a ritual of kneeling in prayer following games. Several students volunteered to participate in his impromptu prayer tradition. In 2015, an administrator of the school addressed the matter with the coach after an opposing team complained. After an investigation, Kennedy was later placed on administrative leave and barred from “participating in any capacity in the BHS football program.”
“Kennedy’s private religious exercise did not come close to crossing any line one might imagine separating protected private expression from impermissible government coercion,” Gorsuch wrote on Monday.
“Learning how to tolerate speech or prayer of all kinds is part of learning how to live in a pluralistic society, a trait of character essential to a tolerant citizenry,” the court ruled.
A Non-profit legal organization, First Liberty Institute, took on Kennedy’s case in 2016. They were defeated in district court and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. In 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court also denied the request. Still, four justices – Alito, Thomas, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh – expressed concern about with regards to how the school district and the lower courts interpreted the First Amendment rights of public school educators.
“This is just so awesome. All I’ve ever wanted was to be back on the field with my guys,” responding to his win, Kennedy said in a statement to the press.
“I am incredibly grateful to the Supreme Court, my fantastic legal team, and everyone who has supported us,” he added. “I thank God for answering our prayers and sustaining my family through this long battle.”
“This is a tremendous victory for Coach Kennedy and religious liberty for all Americans,” said Kelly Shackelford, President Counsel for First Libertysaid.
“Our Constitution protects the right of every American to engage in private religious expression, including praying in public, without fear of getting fired,” Shackleton remarked. “We are grateful that the Supreme Court recognized what the Constitution and law have always said – Americans are free to live out their faith in public.”