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Coach who won Supreme Court case over on-pitch prayers resigns

A Washington state high school football coach who won a Supreme Court case last year over whether he could pray on the field after his public school team’s games and who joined the coaching staff this season, said Wednesday he had quit.

Coach Joseph Kennedy, who successfully argued in the Supreme Court last year that he had a constitutional right to pray at the 50-yard line after his team’s games, said on his website that he had resigned after just one game because he needed to take care of “an ill family member out of state” and because he feels he can “continue to defend constitutional freedom and religious freedom by working outside the school system”.

“I will continue to work to help people understand and embrace the historic decision that is at the heart of our case,” Kennedy said.

Mr. Kennedy had been an assistant coach at Bremerton High School, a public high school in Bremerton, Washington, across Puget Sound from Seattle, where for eight years ending in 2015 he regularly offered prayers after games, with students often joining him. .

But in 2015, the school board asked Mr. Kennedy not to pray if it interfered with his homework or involved students. A school official recommended that the coach’s contract not be renewed for the 2016 season, and Mr. Kennedy did not reapply for the position.

A year after his Supreme Court victory, he returned to coaching with the Bremerton Knights and coached a game last Friday. After the game, which his team won 27-12, Mr. Kennedy walked to the 50-yard line to pray, but no player joined him, the Seattle Times reported.

The decision in his case, Kennedy v Bremerton School District, handed down in June 2022, further expanded the place of religion in public life and underscored how the court has strengthened religious rights, especially those of Christians, in recent years. .

Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, writing for the 6-3 majority, said that “respect for religious expressions is indispensable to life in a free and diverse republic – whether those expressions take place in a sanctuary or on a pitch, and whether they manifest themselves by speaking or by bowing their heads.

Mr Kennedy’s prayers, the court’s six conservative justices ruled, were protected by the First Amendment, and the Bremerton School District erred in suspending him after he refused to end the practice. The decision contradicted decades of Supreme Court precedents that prohibited pressuring students to participate in religious activities.

Mr Kennedy said in a statement after last year’s Supreme Court ruling that he was delighted and all he had ever wanted ‘was to be back on the pitch with my guys’.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Kennedy said in an email that he was unavailable for an interview Wednesday evening.

Rachel Laser, president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, who represented the school board in the case, said in a statement Wednesday that the fact that Mr. Kennedy does not want to coach at Bremerton “ is not a surprise; this is just one more example of why the Supreme Court should not have taken up this case in the first place.

She added: “From the beginning, a phantom network of religious extremists has used this case to advance a Christian nationalist agenda to infuse Christianity into our public schools. They cared little for the true religious freedom of the students, families, and employees of Bremerton or any other public school.