WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court said Friday it will hear the case of a former Seattle-area football coach who was removed from his position because he refused to stop praying on the field.
Lawyers for former Bremerton High School coach Joe Kennedy say their client’s religious beliefs, who is a Christian, ‘required him to give thanks in prayer at the end of every game for what the players did accomplished and for the opportunity to be a part of their lives through Football.” After the games were over and after the players and coaches of both teams met in midfield to shake hands, Kennedy would kneel and offer a quiet or silent prayer.
However, his practice has evolved. Students came to join him, and he eventually began giving motivational speeches that often included religious content and a short prayer.
The school district says when it learned what Kennedy was doing, it tried to accommodate him, asking him to pray separately from the students. But the district says Kennedy ultimately refused to change his practice, was placed on paid leave and sued. The lower courts sided with the school district.
In 2019, at an earlier stage of the case, the High Court declined to get involved. At that time, however, four conservative judges said it was too early to get involved, they were interested in the case and the legal issues it raises.
In a statement released Friday after the court agreed to hear the case, Kelly Shackelford, the head of the First Liberty Institute, which represents Kennedy, said: “No teacher or coach should lose their job for simply expressing their faith in public.”
“By taking this important case, the Supreme Court can protect the right of every American to engage in private religious expression, including public prayer, without fear of punishment,” Shackelford said.
But the leader of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, who represents the school district, said he had complied with the law, calling Kennedy’s actions “coercive prayers.”
“This case is not about a school employee praying silently during a private religious devotion. Rather, it is about protecting impressionable students who felt pressured by their coach to repeatedly participate in public prayer. , and a public school district that has done well with its students and their families,” Rachel Laser said in a statement.
The case is expected to go to trial in the spring.