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 publicly praying after a football game at a public school violates the Establishment Clause or is protected by the Free Exercise Clause and Free Speech Clause.
Oral arguments in this case will take place in-person in the Supreme Court building on ___________________ and will broadcast LIVE! We encourage teachers to feature this case in class as it is being argued and decided at the Court.
For seven years, 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 who said he was compelled to kneel and pray at the 50-yard line after football games. Bremerton High School (BHS) is a public high school in Washington State.
At the beginning of his employment, Kennedy knelt to say a prayer after each game. Soon some players asked if they could join him on the 50-yard line to pray. The number of players grew until most of the team and sometimes members of the opposing team joined him. By the end of his first season, Kennedy would stand to give motivational speeches including prayers aloud while players knelt around him. Players were not required to participate in this post-game activity but some said they felt like they had to do so.
For a period of 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. Kennedy later posted on Facebook, “I think I just might have been fired for praying.” Although Kennedy had not been fired, the post went viral and prompted people from across the country to email, call, and send threatening letters to BHS.
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 for violating 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 questions presented in this case are:
- Is a public school employee’s prayer during school sports activities protected speech?
- If so, can the public school employer prohibit it to avoid violating the Establishment Clause?
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.
Kennedy v. Bremerton School District will be argued on _________________. 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. You can find instructions and handouts for conducting a moot court in our newly revised free Classroom Guide to Moot Courts.
Supreme Court to Hear Case of Coach Who Prayed After Games in Defiance of School District by Mark Walsh, January 14, 2022 https://www.edweek.org/policy-politics/supreme-court-to-hear-case-of-coach-who-prayed-after-games-in-defiance-of-school-district/2022/01
Supreme Court to Hear Case of Coach Who Lost His Job Over Postgame Prayers by Adam Liptak, January 14, 2022 https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/14/us/supreme-court-football-coach-prayer.html
Supreme Court to Decide Between Establishment and Free Exercise in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District by Leslie C. Griffin, January 26, 2022 https://verdict.justia.com/2022/01/26/supreme-court-to-decide-between-establishment-and-free-exercise-in-kennedy-v-bremerton-school-district
Brief of Petitioner, Joseph A. Kennedy: https://www.supremecourt.gov/DocketPDF/21/21-418/214753/20220223131330291_2022-02-23%20Kennedy%20Opening%20Brief%20FINAL.pdf
Brief of Respondent, Bremerton School District: Coming soon…