Kennedy prayer case deliberated before Supreme Court

Bremerton High football coach asserts school district violated his rights

The long-simmering case involving former Bremerton High football coach Joe Kennedy and the Bremerton School District has reached the Supreme Court, which could make a decision that could conceivably redraw the rules concerning prayer in the schools.

Today, the Supreme Court justices are hearing arguments from Kennedy’s legal team that say the former coach’s practice of kneeling at the center of the football field following games and leading students in prayer is protected by freedom of speech and religion statutes in the Constitution.

First Liberty, a nonprofit legal organization, is representing the former football coach before the Supreme Court. Kennedy began his on-field prayer sessions in 2008 following his hiring as a coach by the Bremerton School District. The school district fired him in 2015 while he was an assistant coach when he chose to continue his prayer sessions on school grounds.

The Bremerton School District asserts that Kennedy’s religious activity interfered with students’ religious freedom and had the effect of pressuring student-athletes to pray. The district also said the post-game prayer could have opened it to lawsuits. While the district sought to arrange for a compromise so that Kennedy, who is a Christian, could pray privately before or after the game, Kennedy declined the compromise and filed the lawsuit.

The Supreme Court justices declined to hear the Kennedy case in 2019, but with the court now leaning more conservative, the justices indicated they were ready to hear arguments involving prayer in schools. Following Monday’s arguments, the court will now deliberate and is expected to come to a decision in early summer.