U.S. Supreme Court to hear dispute over football coach's on-field prayers
Kennedy served as an assistant football coach at his alma mater, Bremerton High School, from 2008 to 2015. At issue in the case is whether, as a public employee, Kennedy's religious devotion alongside players on the football field constituted government speech, which can be regulated under Supreme Court precedents, or a private act, which the Constitution would protect.
- United States
The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear an appeal by a Christian former high school football coach who was suspended from his job at a high school in Washington state for refusing to halt his practice of praying at mid-field after games - a case that could expand the religious rights of employees of public institutions. The justices took up an appeal by Joseph Kennedy, who served as an assistant football coach in the city of Bremerton, of a lower court ruling that rejected his claims that the school district's actions violated his free speech and religious rights under the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment.
The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year ruled against Kennedy, determining that local officials would have violated the First Amendment's ban on government establishment of religion if they let Kennedy's prayers and Christian-infused speeches continue. Kennedy served as an assistant football coach at his alma mater, Bremerton High School, from 2008 to 2015.
At issue in the case is whether, as a public employee, Kennedy's religious devotion alongside players on the football field constituted government speech, which can be regulated under Supreme Court precedents, or a private act, which the Constitution would protect. Kennedy contends that his prayers and speeches were private in nature and not part of his official duties as coach. Bremerton School District disagreed, noting that Kennedy regularly delivered post-game prayers to crowds of players and others for years until officials learned about the religious nature of these sessions in 2015. The school district said such prayers coming from the coach could be coercive, and some parents said their children felt compelled to participate.
The dispute began when the school district, wary that Kennedy's actions could be perceived as an impermissible government endorsement of religion, notified him to stop the prayers while on duty, offering other private locations in the school as alternatives. Kennedy refused and made media appearances publicizing his dispute with the school district, attracting national attention. After repeatedly defying school officials' demands, he was placed on paid leave from his seasonal contract and did not re-apply as a coach for the subsequent season.
(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)