Supreme Court rules praying football coach’s First Amendment rights violated

Coach Joseph Kennedy loses job over praying on and off of school football field with his students, SCOTUS decides Kennedy’s rights violated

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supremecourt.gov

Kennedy kneels with his players following a game. (Photo used in dissenting opinion by Justice Sotomayor.)

Arizona Lee, Editor-in-Chief

Joseph Kennedy, a football coach in the Bremerton School District in Washington, recently lost his job as a result of kneeling following football games and offering personal prayers. His players often participated. Kennedy had conducted prayers both on the field and in other settings, such as in school locker rooms, since 2015.

Following the loss of his job, Kennedy sued Bremerton District, claiming his First Amendment rights were violated under the Free Exercise and Free Speech clauses.

The final Supreme Court decision for Kennedy v. Bremerton School District was made on Monday, June 27.

The decision was 6-3, split along conservative and liberal lines, and sided with Kennedy. The decision affirmed that Kennedy had a constitutional right to pray following games.

Some believe this decision further entangles state and religion. It appears that this SCOTUS vote, along with recent political events such as the overturning of Roe v. Wade and cases such as Carson v. Makin (which confirmed that taxpayer dollars can be used to fund religious schools) and many others, are blurring religious and legal matters.

Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the majority. He stated, “Respect for religious expressions is indispensable to life in a free and diverse Republic.” The majority argument was that this respect was being violated, which was unconstitutional, harmful, and unfair.

Dissenting Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a liberal justice, wrote that “the majority had gone astray by prioritizing the religious rights of a school official over those of his students”. She explained that the students could easily feel pressured or uncomfortable, and that therefore Kennedy’s prayers were not constitutionally protected.

Uniquely, the dissent written by Justice Sotomayor also contained multiple photographs of Kennedy and his students during prayer.

Kennedy prayed alongside school football players for eight years before the loss of his job. (Photo used in dissenting opinion.) (supremecourt.gov)

The court disagreed on whether the actions school officials take during work hours both as a coach and a teacher can be considered official conduct. They also disagreed on whether Kennedy’s actions were seen as an unofficial representation of the school.

Kennedy was overjoyed by the SCOTUS ruling. He said the initial loss of his job and relating case proved to be a “long battle” for him and his family.

“I thank God for answering our prayers,” he said.