A suspended high-school football coach and 18-year Marine veteran will soon find out if the United States Supreme Court agrees that he was wrongfully suspended after refusing to stop leading on-field post-game prayer.
Joseph Kennedy, former Bremerton High School football coach in Bremerton, WA, was suspended by the Bremerton School District in 2015 and placed on paid leave after resuming on-field prayer even though he had initially agreed to stop doing so. The school reacted after having received multiple complaints from parents of players who were atheist or believed that if their sons did not participate in the prayer that they would be penalized with less playing time. Kennedy and the school district disagree on whether he was eventually fired or simply decided not to return the following season.
The prayer after the football game — that was just myself, I would just take a knee at the 50-yard line after football game,” Kennedy told Fox News’ chief legal correspondent Shannon Bream. “After a few months, the kids would say: Coach, what are you doing out there? And I just said I was thanking God for what you did. They asked if they could join. And I said: it’s America, a free country, you do what you want to do. And that’s how that kind of started.
According to school officials the school was accommodating to Kennedy, and said he could engage in religious activity, including prayer, so long as it does not interfere with job responsibilities. But Kennedy doesn’t believe his post-game prayer interfered with what he was doing as a coach and at no time did he force any of his players or other coaches to participate. According to Kennedy’s attorney, Jeremy Dys, of the First Liberty Institute:
Coach Kennedy simply wants to pray by himself at the 50-yard line. That’s the commitment he made before God,” Dys told Fox News. “They [school leaders] refused to honor that. And now here we are seven years later, arguing about whether or not someone could be fired from their job just because the public can see him engage in a private act of worship.
The lawsuit filed by Kennedy, which has put religious freedom and exercising one’s religious beliefs on display, has drifted through the lower courts who have all ruled for the school. The U.S. Supreme Court initially rejected the case in 2019 preferring the appeals court review the case again. The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals concluded that by kneeling and praying in view of students and parents, Kennedy ‘spoke as a public employee, not as a private citizen, and his speech therefore was constitutionally unprotected.’
Now Kennedy’s case is before highest court in the land and its nine justices, five who lean conservative, three who lean liberal, and one wild card. Given the balance is tipped to the right the high court may be poised to disagree with the lower court ruling and rule in Kennedy’s favor.