BREMERTON, Wash. — The Supreme Court says it will hear the case of a former Seattle-area football coach who was removed from his job because he refused to stop praying on the field.
Former Bremerton High School coach Joe Kennedy’s lawyers say the religious beliefs of their client, who is Christian, compelled him to pray after games.
At first, Kennedy would kneel and offer a silent or quiet prayer. He eventually began to give motivational speeches to players that often included religious content and a short prayer.
The school district asked Kennedy to pray separately from students but he ultimately declined and sued.
Lower courts sided with the school district.
In its ruling, the Ninth Circuit panel wrote that Kennedy “spoke as a public employee, not as a private citizen when he kneeled and prayed on the fifty-yard line immediately after games in school-logoed attire while in view of students and parents.”
In 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal from Kennedy to take up the case. However, at the time, four conservative justices said they were interested in the legal issues it raised.
If the Supreme Court upholds the lower courts' decision, advocates for Kennedy said they were worried the appellate court's "overt hostility to personal religious practice would drum the faithful out of public life."
"It is absurd to label an act of obvious personal gratitude and humility governmental speech that is prohibited by the Constitution," said John Bursch, Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel and vice president of appellate advocacy.