High school football coach and Christian faithful Joe Kennedy, who was fired for praying at the 50 yard line after school football games is seeking the help of the U.S. Supreme Court to protect the religious liberty of Americans.
Kennedy was embattled with the Bremerton School District in Washington state earlier this year when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that his firing was lawful in the face of him violating the district's policy not to pray. The Christian coach's post-game prayers were non-disruptive and was described as him kneeling silently at midfield.
According to Christian Headlines, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to get involved in 2019 when Kennedy lost his case at the district court and at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. However, four justices expressed their interest in hearing the case at another date after the lower courts present a better record. The four justices were concerned that the Ninth Circuit's reasoning was "troubling and may justify review in the future."
First Liberty Institute, which is representing Kennedy, accused the school for infringing on his constitutional rights. Chief counsel Kelly Shackelford argued, "No American should be forced to choose between their faith and the job they love."
"The Ninth Circuit's opinion threatens the rights of millions of Americans who simply want to be able to freely exercise their faith without fear of losing their job," Shackelford explained. "We hope the Supreme Court will right this wrong and restore Coach Kennedy to the football field where he belongs."
Also representing Kennedy is Paul Clement, a former U.S. Solicitor General under President George W. Bush. The Ninth Circuit decided that Kennedy's prayers violated the U.S. Constitution's Establishment Clause. But the petition to the Supreme Court argues that the Ninth Circuit's opinion has "far-reaching effects for the hundreds of thousands of teachers in the Ninth Circuit."
It argued that their decision "converts practically everything public-school teachers do or say during school hours or after-hours functions into government speech that the school may prohibit," which means forcing teachers to "shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and expression at the schoolhouse gate."
Kennedy and his representatives are hopeful that the Supreme Court would hear the case and favor them in the ruling, especially with the conservative majority of justices serving at the moment.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the argument is Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which praised the Ninth Circuit's ruling, Fox News reported. Its vice president and legal director Richard B. Katskee said in March, "Public schools must provide an inclusive and welcoming environment for all students, regardless of their religious beliefs."
Katskee argued that these schools must ensure "student athletes don't feel compelled to pray or participate in religious activities to secure their place on a team." Americans United stood by the court's decision that the Bremerton School District did the right thing by protecting the religious freedom of the students and their families at the school.