On Monday, the Supreme Court will begin hearing oral arguments in the case of Joseph Kennedy, a high school football coach who was fired for praying on the field after every game.
As reported by USA Today, Kennedy had made a tradition out of kneeling to pray on the 50-yard line after every game, whether or not his team lost. Sometimes he would be joined in prayer by several of the students.
“That’s where I made my commitment to God before I even took the coaching job,” Kennedy said in an interview. “There on the field of battle.”
But after allegedly receiving complaints from some parents about the display of Kennedy’s faith, Bremerton High School decided to fire him after he had worked for the district for seven years. Kennedy sued the Seattle-based district for violation of his First Amendment rights to freedom of religion.
Previously, the far-left 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ultimately ruled against Kennedy, claiming that he was praying in his capacity as a public school employee and thus was not protected by the First Amendment. Kennedy subsequently took his case to the Supreme Court, which is expected to issue its decision this summer.
Bremerton School District claimed in court that several parents complained that their children were feeling forced to join Kennedy in prayer. The district subsequently offered Kennedy time and space to pray privately before and after each game, but Kennedy insisted on keeping his prayer to the 50-yard line on the field; Kennedy noted that the spaces offered to accommodate him were not “feasible,” since they were located so far away from the field that he could not carry out his duties as coach.
“For seven years this was Kennedy conducting prayer on the field, leading it, delivering it to the students,” said Richard Katskee, a spokesman for the far-left Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which is representing the district. Katskee further claimed that Kennedy would put “himself on the 50-yard line and he makes a spectacle of things…There’s nothing about that that’s personal or private.”
The Supreme Court had previously faced Kennedy’s case back in 2019, while Kennedy was still employed. Although the court ultimately declined to hear his case at the time, four of the court’s conservative justices nevertheless wrote that a prior ruling by a lower court in favor of the district was “troubling,” and thus “may justify review in the future.”
Some on the Left are claiming that the case could be a landmark decision in the separation of church and state with regards to public schools. But others say that the case is simply a matter of protecting individual First Amendment rights. Richard Garnett, director of the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School, said that “this is not a case about reimposing prayer in public school classrooms. Instead, it is a case about protecting all individuals’ right to speak freely – and to pray – in the public square.”