Court Battles

Supreme Court agrees to hear case on HS coach’s suspension over on-field prayers

The Supreme Court is seen at sunset on June 7
Greg Nash

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear a high school football coach’s appeal challenging his firing for holding on-field prayers after games in a case that could implicate First Amendment rights for government employees.

In his case against school officials in Bremerton, Wash., Joseph Kennedy is asking the court to decide whether his regular post-game prayer should be considered government-sanctioned speech that lacks First Amendment protections.

Two years ago, the Supreme Court had declined to hear the former coach’s suit against the public school district when it was asked to review a preliminary appeal in the case.

But the conservative wing of the court took the opportunity to signal their disapproval with how the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had handled Kennedy’s case.

In 2019, Justice Samuel Alito wrote a concurring opinion, which was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, saying “the Ninth Circuit’s understanding of the free speech rights of public school teachers is troubling and may justify review in the future.”

Since then, both a federal district court and the 9th Circuit have rejected Kennedy’s claims, ruling that if the Bremerton School District had allowed the post-game prayers to continue, it would have violated the First Amendment’s prohibition on government-sanctioned religious speech.

“The record before us and binding Supreme Court precedent compel the conclusion that BSD would have violated the Establishment Clause by allowing Kennedy to pray at the conclusion of football games, in the center of the field, with students who felt pressured to join him,” Judge Milan Smith wrote a three-judge circuit panel decision last year.

Tags Brett Kavanaugh Clarence Thomas Neil Gorsuch Samuel Alito Supreme Court

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