An assistant football coach at a Washington high school was fired after he was seen praying at the 50-yard line in front of children, and he will take his case to the Supreme Court on Monday.
Following an event in September 2015 when children joined him in the prayer, Joseph Kennedy, a Marine, claims that the Bremerton School District violated his religion freedom by refusing to allow him to pray at the midfield after games.
After three additional occurrences of Kennedy praying with children on the field or in locker rooms, the district’s lawyers stated Kennedy was permitted to pray alone. However, the New York Times claimed that Kennedy was put on administrative leave and his contract was terminated after this.
After hearing of Kennedy’s prayers, the district said it had received a flood of complaints and threats for allegedly persuading children to join him in prayer.
District officials got threats and hate letters,’ according to the filing the district sent to the Supreme Court, which first declined to consider the issue in 2019. Screaming insults were directed at the head coach and he feared for his life.’
While Kennedy claims that he has been doing this routine since 2008, he says he has never requested any pupils to join him.
Players began to wonder what he was doing after a few games, and after telling them that he had been “thanking God for you guys,” a couple of players who claimed to be Christians approached him and asked if they might join.
‘It was never any kind of thing where it was a mandatory thing,’ he told the Times.
Attorney Jeremy Dys of First Liberty Institute, which is defending Kennedy, said that a judgment by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in favor of the district in 2019 violated Kennedy’s First Amendment rights by barring him from praying with pupils.
By Dys’ estimation, “just that small blessing over her salad – that’s enough to dismiss that teacher” in light of the 2019 judgement, teachers might be fired if they pray over their lunch in front of their children.
First Amendment rights have been vindicated by the Supreme Court, said Rachel Laser of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the group that is arguing on behalf of the school system.
‘This case is challenging well-established case law that has protected students’ religious freedom for decades, and that has been supported by conservative and liberal justices alike,’ Laser told CBS.
‘If the court rules the wrong way, teachers and coaches could pressure students to pray in every public school classroom across the country.’
A player has come forward anonymously to say he engaged in one of Kennedy’s prayers despite his own religious convictions because he was afraid of losing playing time.
Despite now residing in Florida, Kennedy promised that if his Supreme Court case was successful, he would return to Washington on “the very first airplane back.”
‘The biggest honor of my life was coaching these young men,’ he said. ‘No lie, we had blood, sweat, tears and death in the Marine Corps, but I got way more out of coaching than anything else in my life.’
Four conservative justices on the Supreme Court had voiced worry about the verdict of the Ninth Circuit Court, and the Court declined to consider the case in 2019.
‘The Ninth Circuit’s understanding of the free speech rights of public-school teachers is troubling and may justify review in the future,’ Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote at the time, joined by Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavannaugh and Clarence Thomas.
In the past, the Supreme Court rejected the mandate of prayer in public schools and prohibited student-led prayer during high school football games.
However, Laser anticipated that the district would have an uphill struggle with six conservative justices and just three liberal justices on the Supreme Court.