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A game-changer: Victory for Coach Kennedy … and public religious expression

A game-changer: Victory for Coach Kennedy … and public religious expression


A game-changer: Victory for Coach Kennedy … and public religious expression

Early Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in favor of a high school football coach who was fired after kneeling at midfield to offer a quiet prayer of thanks following games.

Coach Joe Kennedy's case against the Bremerton (Washington) School District began in September 2015 when he was informed via a letter from the district that his post-game prayers were being investigated for compliance with the school board's policy on "religious-related activities and practices."

The district ultimately fired Kennedy for his brief, 30-second prayers – and thus began his legal battle to get his job back. He was represented by First Liberty Institute.

Shackelford, Kelly (First Liberty Institute) Shackelford

"This is a tremendous victory for Coach Kennedy and religious liberty for all Americans," says Kelly Shackelford, president, CEO, and Chief Counsel for First Liberty. "Our Constitution protects the right of every American to engage in private religious expression, including praying in public, without fear of getting fired.

"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."

Remarks from Coach Kennedy …

"I just can't stop smiling and thanking God and everybody who supported me. I found out that I'm not insane. It's absolutely true of all the facts of the case, and it just feels good to know that the First Amendment is alive and well."

"It doesn't matter what your faith is – or if you have no faith – [the ruling] just proves that this is America and the First Amendment applies [to everyone]. And nobody should have to worry … now especially, about just because you want to thank God, you can do it now. That's just an awesome thing for everybody."

"It is so bizarre to me [that] something as simple as taking a knee for 15 seconds in thanks after a football game has made this much noise and [went] all the way to the Supreme Court. It seems just weird to me."

Coach Joe Kennedy
(on Fox News following the ruling)

Voting in the majority were Justices Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Amy Coney Barrett, and Brett Kavanagh, and Chief Justice John Roberts. The three dissenting votes were cast by Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Stephen Breyer.

The case is Kennedy v. Bremerton School District. Lower courts, including the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, had sided with the district. As it has done many times before, the Supreme Court today reversed the Ninth Circuit's ruling.

Reaction

Gary Bauer (Campaign for Working Families): "This is a wonderful step forward. I think this is really important to pastors. So many [of them] never said anything about the sanctity of life because they didn't want to get involved in politics. Well, guess what? Politics just saved your religious liberty. So, I hope the pastors who never joined the fight for the sanctity of life will now [admit] to their congregations [that they] probably made a mistake. Because of Christian citizens who did get involved and did elect the right people, our religious liberty has been protected as the Founding Fathers intended it to be."

Randall Wenger (Chief Counsel, Independence Law Center): "This is a great victory for religious freedom. When something as small as a 30-second prayer at the end of a football game can cause a coach to be fired, but teachers are crossing the line by advocating for any manner of political or ideological views in the classroom, it’s clear that we’ve not achieved neutrality towards religion. Religious speech should be treated with the same respect as other speech, not reacted to like asbestos that must be entirely remediated from school."

John Bursch (Senior Counsel, Alliance Defending Freedom): "American citizens don’t give up the right to prayerfully practice their faith during working hours when they accept a job with a public employer. We are pleased the Supreme Court reversed the 9th Circuit’s ruling that wrongly reasoned that Coach Kennedy’s personal, on-field prayers were not his own, but the government’s, and affirmed his constitutional right to exercise his faith, as is true for every American."