Supreme Court hears oral arguments on First Amendment case

by Laura Ramirez

Photo: Adobe Stock

After years of litigation between the former Bremerton High School football coach and the Washington school district, the Supreme Court finally heard oral arguments in the First Amendment case.

The lawsuit involves a religious freedom dispute which arose after Joseph Kennedy, a football coach and Marine veteran, was placed on paid administrative leave and barred from “participating in any capacity in the BHS football program.” Kennedy received backlash from the school for kneeling in prayer after the school’s football games, according to the First Liberty Institute representing him.

Kennedy would habitually pray after every game for seven years, often by himself and sometimes voluntarily joined by students, triggering the school district to take disciplinary actions against him.

He filed a lawsuit against Bremerton School District in 2016. However, both the district court and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the school district.

Initially, the Supreme Court refused to take the case in 2019.

However, Justices Alito, Thomas, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh released a statement expressing concerns over how the school district and lower courts have interpreted the First Amendment in the case.

In January, the court reconsidered the case and announced plans to hear oral arguments.

“No teacher or coach should lose their job for simply expressing their faith while in public,” President and CEO of First Liberty Kelly Shackelford said. “By taking this important case, the Supreme Court can protect the right of every American to engage in private religious expression, including praying in public, without fear of punishment.”

The Washington Examiner reported that the conservative justices on the court on Monday seemed to be divided on whether Kennedy’s action violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

Paul Clement, First Liberty volunteer attorney, was the first to present arguments, defending Kennedy’s right to pray on the football field under the conditional principles of freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

The school district opposed the notion, saying the former coach’s “coercive” actions meddled with the students’ religious freedoms.

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