Supreme Court to hear case involving high school football coach’s postgame prayer on the field
The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear an appeal in the longstanding legal dispute over a high school football assistant coach praying on the field after games in Washington state.
In 2015, the Bremerton School District warned coach Joseph Kennedy that his practice of kneeling and praying with his team on the 50-yard line violated the Establishment Clause, and the district asked him to Stop. When he refused, the school district suspended him, citing the “degree of coercion” students would feel to participate in religious activities directed or approved by their coach.
In 2017, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the school district’s actions did not violate Kennedy’s free speech rights under the First Amendment, a decision the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review. in 2019. At the time, four justices stressed that the case before them was solely a matter of free speech and that Kennedy’s claims of free exercise of religion still stood. In 2020, a district court also dismissed those religious freedom claims, noting that the coach’s desire to express his religious beliefs “must give way” to the school district’s need to restrict expression that violates the clause. of establishment. The 9th Circuit upheld that decision in March 2021. Now the Supreme Court will revisit the case, with closing arguments expected this spring.
The case will likely draw the Court’s attention to its 2000 decision in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe. There, the Court ruled unconstitutional a Texas high school’s practice of allowing student-led prayer before every football game over loudspeaker. Such speech, a 6-3 majority ruled, is not private speech protected by the First Amendment, but rather government-sanctioned speech that takes place on school property at a sponsored event. by the school.
It is no secret that the composition of the Court has changed since the last time this case was brought before the judges. Yet the Santa Fe The decision remains an important precedent, which protects the rights of all students and community members gathering at school-sponsored events, such as high school football games. BJC wrote a brief in 2000 urging the Court to Santa Fe to declare the prayer policy unconstitutional because of the coercive effect it has on students and others to participate in religious activities; BJC also joined a brief in this case filed with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, siding with the Bremerton School District.
As BJC Executive Director, Amanda Tyler tweeted friday, BJC “has a long history of protecting religious freedom in public schools, which includes opposing government-directed religious exercises. We look forward to continuing to advocate for religious freedom for ALL as the case happens to #SCOTUS.