By TED O’NEIL
THE CENTER SQUARE CONTRIBUTOR
(The Center Square) – The U.S. Supreme Court has announced it will hear oral arguments later this year in the case of a high school football coach in Washington state who was fired for praying after games.
The case, Kennedy v. Bremerton School Board, involves Joe Kennedy who coached the football team at Bremerton High School from 2008 to 2015.
The issue began after Mr. Kennedy was hired when he would take a knee on the field after games to engage in personal prayer.
According to a 2019 story in the Daily Wire, Mr. Kennedy’s players began joining him and invited members from the opposing team to do the same. Mr. Kennedy would also give motivational speeches at mid-field that included messages of faith.
The school board sent Mr. Kennedy a letter in September 2015 stating he was under investigation for violating the district’s “Religious-Related Activities and Practices” policy. The policy says students can engage in “private, non-disruptive prayer” at times that do not conflict with learning activities but that staff should not encourage or discourage it.
Mr. Kennedy began waiting to pray until players were off the field and fans had cleared the stands, but in October 2015 he asked for a religious accommodation under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Mr. Kennedy at the time argued his official coaching duties ended as soon as the game was over.
The school board disagreed and fired Mr. Kennedy, who then sued.
Kelly Shackleford, president and CEO of First Liberty, which is representing Mr. Kennedy, praised the high court’s decision to hear the case.
“No teacher or coach should lose their job for simply expressing their faith in public,” he said in a statement. “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.”
In the same statement, Mr. Kennedy said, “Six years away from the football field is far too long. I am extremely grateful that the Supreme Court is going to hear my case and pray that I will soon be able to be back on the field coaching the game and players I love.”
Mr. Kennedy first lost in district court and before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The appellate court in June of 2021 declined to rehear the case and Mr. Kennedy’s attorneys appealed to the Supreme Court.