U.S. Supreme Court will hear major First Amendment case on coach fired for praying with students

The Roberts Court, April 23, 2021 Seated from left to right: Justices Samuel A. Alito, Jr. and Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., and Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor Standing from left to right: Justices Brett M. Kavanaugh, Elena Kagan, Neil M. Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett. Photograph by Fred Schilling, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

The U.S. Supreme Court announced on Friday that it will hear oral arguments from attorneys for a former high school football coach who was fired for leading a prayer with players at mid field.

“No teacher or coach should lose their job for simply expressing their faith while in public,” said Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of First Liberty, who is representing the case.

“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,” he added.

Coach Joseph Kennedy was suspended from Bremerton High School for praying with students and members of the community.

Joseph Kennedy, a practicing Christian and former football coach at Bremerton High School, filed the suit after the public school district suspended him in 2015 for praying with players at the start and finish of each game.

As Kennedy led prayers, a majority of team members, players from the opposing team, as well as parents and members of the community, would pray with him at the 50-yard line.

Bremerton School District, located outside of Seattle, Washington, demanded the coach stop praying, telling him that it was “problematic.” Kennedy was told by the district that he couldn’t practice his religion in public.

Kennedy refused to practice in private, and prayed on the field with students again. The district then placed the coach on administrative leave.

Kennedy took his case to the Supreme Court in 2018, arguing that his First Amendment right to freedom of religion was violated by the school. However, his case was sent to the lower courts to determine if he was fired because of religious expression or other reasons.

Conservative Justices Alito, Thomas, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh also wrote that the coach’s case was “troubling,” adding that it “may justify review in the future.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco also ruled last March that Kennedy’s termination was justified because his prayers as a public government employee established religion.

The Supreme Court will once again hear arguments on Joseph Kennedy’s on Jan. 19, 2022.

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