Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Spring 2022 SCOTUS in the Classroom Case: Kennedy v. Bremerton School District



We are excited to announce our Spring SCOTUS in the Classroom case: Kennedy v. Bremerton School District. This much anticipated case will decide whether a coach praying in public after a football game is protected by the Free Exercise Clause and Free Speech Clause or violates the Establishment Clause.

Oral arguments in this case will take place in-person in the Supreme Court building on April 25 and will broadcast LIVE! We encourage teachers to feature this case in class as it is being argued and decided at the Court.

Kennedy v. Bremerton School District presents an opportunity to teach about the tensions and intersections between the Establishment Clause, the Free Exercise Clause, and the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.

Street Law will post case materials as they become available on the SCOTUS in the Classroom program page. Teachers are encouraged to hold moot courts or mini-moot courts of the case the same weeks that the Supreme Court hears arguments, giving students the opportunity to follow discussion and analysis in the news and listen to or read a transcript of the actual oral arguments at the Court. 

Background

Joseph Kennedy was employed as an assistant coach for Bremerton High School’s varsity football team and the head coach for the junior varsity team. Kennedy is a Christian whose religious beliefs compel him to kneel and pray at the 50-yard line immediately after football games. Bremerton High School (BHS) is a public high school in Washington State. 

For seven years, there were no recorded complaints about Kennedy’s prayers, speeches, or kneeling. However, in 2015, an employee of another high school brought the prayers to the principal’s attention.

Over the course of the season the school and Kennedy could not come to an agreement about the post-game prayers. On October 28th, Kennedy was placed on paid administrative leave and prohibited from participating in any way with the football team.

Kennedy sued the school district arguing that prohibiting him from saying a brief, quiet prayer on the 50-yard-line after games concluded violated his First Amendment rights. The District Court found for the school district. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the District Court’s ruling and ruled against Kennedy again. The court found that even if Kennedy’s prayer was private expression protected by the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses, the Establishment Clause nevertheless required its suppression. Kennedy petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case and they agreed.

The important question presented in this case is: Is a public school employee’s prayer in view of students immediately following the conclusion of a football game protected speech and religious exercise, and, if so, must the public school employer prohibit it to avoid violating the Establishment Clause?