SCOTUS Sides with Former Football Coach Fired for Praying at Games, Expanding Right to Religious Expression

Joseph Kennedy previously filed a lawsuit alleging that a high school violated his First Amendment speech and religious rights when they fired him for praying after football games

Joe Kennedy, a former assistant football coach at Bremerton High School in Bremerton, Wash., poses for a photo March 9, 2022, at the school's football field. After losing his coaching job for refusing to stop kneeling in prayer with players and spectators on the field immediately after football games, Kennedy will take his arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, April 25, 2022, saying the Bremerton School District violated his First Amendment rights by refusing to let him continue praying at midfield after games. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Photo: AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

The U.S. Supreme Court has sided with a former football coach who lost his job after he prayed on the field following high school football games.

SCOTUS ruled 6-3 on Monday in the case of Kennedy vs. Bremerton School District that Kennedy was wrongfully terminated from his role after he refused to stop praying on the public high school's football field.

"Joseph Kennedy lost his job as a high school football coach because he knelt at midfield after games to offer a quiet prayer of thanks," Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the majority.

"The Constitution and the best of our traditions counsel mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and suppression, for religious and nonreligious views alike," he added.

The remaining conservative justices agreed with Gorsuch, 54. The three liberal judges differed in opinion, including Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who wrote that the Constitution "does not authorize, let alone require, public schools to embrace this conduct."

"Today's decision is particularly misguided because it elevates the religious rights of a school official, who voluntarily accepted public employment and the limits that public employment entails, over those of his students, who are required to attend school and who this Court has long recognized are particularly vulnerable and deserving of protection," Sotomayor, 68, added. "In doing so, the Court sets us further down a perilous path in forcing States to entangle themselves with religion, with all of our rights hanging in the balance."

The US Supreme Court is seen in Washington, DC, on May 4, 2020, during the first day of oral arguments held by telephone, a first in the Court's history, as a result of COVID-19, known as coronavirus. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

Kennedy first began kneeling on the Bremerton High School football field after games in 2008, where he would take part in a brief prayer at the 50-yard line, per the SCOTUS ruling.

Years later, in 2015, the district's athletic director attended a game and saw Kennedy taking part in a prayer with students, when they told him "that he should not be conducting prayers with players," the court documents said.

The district's superintendent also told him that leading the players in prayer "would likely be found to violate the Establishment Clause, exposing the district to legal liability," per the ruling. Kennedy defied those orders, however, and was placed on administrative leave for disobeying orders.

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The coach later filed a lawsuit alleging that the high school violated his First Amendment speech and religious rights. His case was eventually brought before the Supreme Court after an array of lower courts dismissed his legal challenge.

Kennedy, who currently resides in Florida, has said that he would return to his former place of employment and rejoin as a part-time football coach should the Supreme Court rule in his favor, NBC News reported.

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