Kennedy v. Bremerton School District was argued on April 25, 2021.
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.
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?
- Case Summary: Kennedy v. Bremerton School District (Note: you will be prompted to create a Street Law store web account and "check out" in order to download this free case summary.)
- Link to the opinion of the Court (to be posted after the decision is announced)
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