The Supreme Court decided that a Washington school district should not have punished a high school football coach who was Christian for praying on the field after games.
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6 to 3 for a former football coach at Bremerton (Washington) High School, who prayed at the 50-yard line after games for years but was punished in 2015 when the school told him to stop and he refused. Joseph Kennedy is the Christian football coach who was suspended by the school district after he committed to praying despite the school's advice. He was later fired.
According to The Blaze, the conservative justices in the Supreme Court, who make up the majority, voted in favor of Kennedy, while the liberal justices voted against him.Justice Neil Gorsuch, who wrote for the majority, argued, "The Constitution and the best of our traditions counsel mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and suppression, for religious and nonreligious views alike."
However, liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a dissenting opinion that the Supreme Court's decision to grant a win to the former high school coach who was fired for praying on the field after games would set America back in the "perilous path" of enabling states to "entangle themselves with religion."
The Supreme Court rejected the case in 2019, a time in which there were only four conservative justices on the court. Kennedy's case moved forward in the Supreme Court once it got a conservative majority. The high court heard arguments in late April, implying that they would side with the Christian football coach.
Football Coach and Representatives Celebrate 'Victory'
Kennedy released a statement following the Supreme Court's decision to side with him on the case, saying that it was "awesome" to hear the news, the Christian Post reported. He expressed excitement over going back to the field to coach students and gratitude for the Supreme Court, his "fantastic legal team," and people who supported him throughout the lengthy legal battle.
"I thank God for answering our prayers and sustaining my family through this long battle," Kennedy remarked. Meanwhile, First Liberty, a religious liberty law firm in Plano, Texas that represented the Christian football coach said through its president and CEO Kelly Shackelford that the Supreme Court's decision was a "tremendous victory" not just for Kennedy but for religious liberty as well.
"We are grateful that the Supreme Court recognized what the Constitution and law have always said - Americans are free to live out their faith in public," Shackelford said.
Judges Sotomayor, Breyer, and Kagan, however, disagreed. In their dissent, they argued that "school officials leading prayer is constitutionally impermissible" and goes against the "constitutional protections for the religious liberty of students and their parents." They argued that it also opposes the "separation of church and state."
Christian Football Coach Never Forced Anyone to Join Him in Prayer
Kennedy began praying on the field after school football games back in 2008 and continued undisturbed until 2015, when the Bremerton School District started a heated debate on whether the practice was protected religious expression, CBS News reported. His intercessions was brief, the Christian football coach said, calling them a "15-second thing." Oftentimes, other players or students would join him in prayer.
But never was anyone forced to join Kennedy in prayer. He even said that several students came up to him and told him they felt uncomfortable and were given full freedom to refrain from joining the prayer. In addition, no student was given special treatment for joining him in prayer.
Kennedy was placed on administrative leave for violating the school district's orders not to pray on the field with the students. This was when he decided not to reapply for his coaching position and instead filed a lawsuit against the school district in August 2016. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals then ruled against Kennedy and his legal team petitioned the Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case. Kennedy also faced another lower court loss, but was given the chance to face the Supreme Court in February.
Kennedy said he is looking forward to getting his old job back, but admitted that he had not been contacted by the school district since the Supreme Court announced its decision to grant him a win. Once he takes on his coaching position, the Christian football coach said he would continue praying despite not knowing where his intercessions would take place.
According to the Seattle Times, Kennedy moved to Florida two years ago to help in caring for a sick family member but previously said that he would be on "the very first flight back" if the Supreme Court granted him a win. This week, he said that there were some logistics to be ironed out with the school district and more discussions with his family before figuring out his next move. Meanwhile, the school district said that it was still assessing the Supreme Court's decision and what it means and could not "confirm at this time" if Kennedy will be back to coach in the fall.