After shedding his job for praying on the sector, ex-high school soccer coach Joe Kennedy brings case to Supreme Courtroom

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Hearken to remain audio of the Supreme Courtroom’s oral arguments throughout the case proper right here.


Washington — It was after watching the sports activities actions film “Going by the Giants” that Joseph Kennedy, then a model new coach for the Bremerton Extreme School soccer workers in Washington state, was impressed to hope.

And so, after instructing his first recreation for the Bremerton Knights in August 2008, Kennedy walked to the 50-yard-line, “on the battlefield,” the retired U.S. Marine says, and took a knee to provide a prayer of gratitude. 

It began with the coach, alone, briefly thanking God after the final word whistle for conserving the players safe, for trustworthy play and for spirited opponents. Nonetheless shortly enough, the number of players gathering alongside Kennedy after video video games grew to include a majority of the workers, though participation assorted. A minimum of one mum or dad acknowledged his son felt “compelled to participate” out of concern he would lose out on participating in time.

And shortly enough, the prayers by Kennedy, himself a graduate of Bremerton Extreme School, superior into motivational speeches with non secular references.

Praying Football Coach
Joe Kennedy, a former assistant soccer coach at Bremerton Extreme School in Bremerton, Washington, poses for {a photograph} March 9, 2022, on the school’s soccer self-discipline. 

Ted S. Warren / AP


For seven years, Kennedy continued his observe of praying on the sector with no factors. Nonetheless in September 2015, the Bremerton School District found what he was doing when an opposing workers’s coach knowledgeable Bremerton Extreme School’s principal that Kennedy requested his players to hitch him for the post-game prayer, saying he “thought it was pretty cool” the district would allow such train, in line with court docket docket information.

That comment by the opposing coach served as a result of the catalyst for a yearslong battle between Kennedy and the varsity district, the venue for which shifted from the gridiron to the courts when the coach misplaced his job after defying directives to complete his observe of praying on the sector.

Kennedy argued he was partaking in constitutionally protected non secular expression, and on Monday, america Supreme Courtroom will weigh his bid to get his instructing job once more and be allowed to hope at midfield after video video games.

“It seems really easy to me: It’s a man taking a knee by himself on the 50-yard-line, which to me wouldn’t appear to be it needs a rocket scientist or a Supreme Courtroom justice to find out,” he knowledgeable CBS Data. “I didn’t want to set off any waves, and the issue I wanted to do was coach soccer and thank God after the game.”

Nonetheless for defenders of the varsity district, Kennedy was performing as an agent of the state who, as a public school employee, violated the non secular freedom of students who felt pressure to pray-to-play.

“When a coach makes use of the flexibility of his job to be in a spot and have entry to varsity college students at a time after they’re anticipated to encircle him and can be found to him, that’s an abuse of that vitality and a violation of the Construction,” Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Individuals United for Separation of Church and State, knowledgeable CBS Data’ Jan Crawford. “Spiritual freedom is not the right to impose your religion on others. All of us need to have it, so that’s why the free practice and establishment clause work collectively to protect non secular freedom for all of us.”

“Giving up is not one factor that’s in my blood”

After the Bremerton School District found of Kennedy’s post-game observe of praying at midfield in September 2015, it launched an investigation into whether or not or not he was complying with the varsity board’s protection on religious-related actions and practices. 

Whereas acknowledging that Kennedy had “not actively impressed, or required, participation” in each a pre-game prayer throughout the locker room or his “inspirational talk about at midfield” after video video games,” the district acknowledged in a letter dated September 17, 2015, that the actions seemingly would violate the First Modification’s Establishment Clause and expose the district to “essential hazard of obligation.”

“Bremerton Extreme School legally risks endorsing or favoring one set of religious views over others and that isn’t what the Construction ensures,” Laser acknowledged. “Spiritual freedom, these 16 phrases of our First Modification of our Construction are a defend that protects non secular freedom for all of us, not merely non secular freedom for a number of of us.”

The district knowledgeable Kennedy that his talks with school college students ought to keep totally secular, and future non secular train he engages in, along with prayer, mustn’t intervene collectively along with his job duties, need to be separate from any scholar train and won’t have participation from the students. 

In compliance with the district’s request, Kennedy briefly stopped praying on the sector after video video games. Nonetheless one month later, in mid-October 2015, he educated the district by an lawyer that he would resume saying a post-game prayer on the 50-yard-line after requesting a non secular lodging beneath Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the concept of religion.

“No low cost observer might conclude {{that a}} soccer coach who waits until the game is over and the players have left the sector after which walks to mid-field to say a quick, personal, personal prayer is speaking on behalf of the state,” his lawyer acknowledged in a letter to the Bremerton School District. “Pretty the opposite, Coach Kennedy is engaged in personal non secular expression upon which the state won’t infringe.”

And so, after the final word whistle at Bremerton’s homecoming recreation on October 16, 2015, Kennedy shook palms with the opposing workers, waited until players had been singing their battle monitor, after which knelt on the 50-yard-line, bowed his head, and, joined by players from every teams, members of the media and most of the people, prayed.

He did so as soon as extra for the next two video video games, after which the district positioned Kennedy on paid administrative go away from his place as an assistant coach for violating its directives. All through a subsequent evaluation of Kennedy’s effectivity, Bremerton’s athletic director advisable he not be rehired for the next season, citing a failure to adjust to district protection and failure to supervise student-athletes after video video games. 

Kennedy chosen to not reapply for his instructing place at Bremerton Extreme School, and, in August 2016, filed go nicely with in opposition to the Bremerton School District in federal district court docket docket in Tacoma, Washington, arguing it violated his constitutional rights to free speech and free practice.

1-coach-kennedy-bremerton-high-footbal-field-kneeling-sunset.jpg
Former Bermerton Extreme School soccer coach Joseph Kennedy (First Liberty Institute)

U.S. District Select Ronald Leighton dominated in opposition to Kennedy, discovering that “whereas public faculties would not have unfettered discretion to restrict an employee’s non secular speech, they do have the flexibleness to cease a coach from praying on the center of the soccer self-discipline immediately after video video games.” 

Kennedy appealed to the ninth U.S. Circuit Courtroom of Appeals, which affirmed the district court docket docket’s ruling. He then turned to the Supreme Courtroom, and in 2019, the extreme court docket docket declined to hearken to his case.

In a press launch from Justice Samuel Alito and joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, the 4 justices acknowledged it was premature for the Supreme Courtroom to hearken to Kennedy’s case in the mean time, nevertheless warned the ninth Circuit’s “understanding of the free speech rights of public school lecturers is troubling and can justify analysis ultimately.”

“What might be most troubling regarding the ninth Circuit’s opinion is language that could be understood to suggest {{that a}} coach’s accountability to perform an outstanding perform model requires the coach to refrain from any manifestation of religious faith — even when the coach is plainly not on accountability,” Alito wrote.

After additional proceedings, Kennedy as soon as extra suffered losses throughout the lower courts. A 3-judge panel of judges on the ninth Circuit dominated in March 2021 that the varsity district’s efforts to cease Kennedy from praying did not violate his constitutional rights, and his postgame speech on the sector was speech as a authorities employee.

“At issue on this case is not, as Kennedy makes an try and gloss it, a non-public and private practice of faith,” Select Milan Smith Jr. wrote for the unanimous panel. “At issue was — in every sense of the phrase — a sign, and, because of Kennedy demanded that it occur immediately after the final word whistle, it was a sign primarily directed in school college students and the attending public.”

The whole ninth Circuit declined to re-hear the case, and Kennedy as soon as extra appealed the selection to the Supreme Courtroom in September. The extreme court docket docket agreed in January to take up the dispute.

“I was a Marine for 20 years. Supporting and defending the Construction means fairly a bit to me. Giving up is not one factor that’s in my blood, it is not in my nature,” Kennedy acknowledged of his extended licensed battle to get his job once more. ” I can check out myself throughout the mirror, check out my workers by the years, and preserve my head up extreme and look them throughout the eyes and say hey, I fought the nice battle, I didn’t give up.”

Kennedy’s court docket docket battle with the varsity district will come sooner than a Supreme Courtroom that has shifted extra rightward since 2019, when the justices first spurned his request to hearken to his case. Now with a 6-3 conservative majority, the extreme court docket docket has in present phrases been further sympathetic to non secular rights.

“The state would not private every ounce of your free expression. They can’t censor you from each little factor you do,” Jeremy Dys, explicit counsel for First Liberty, which is representing Kennedy, knowledgeable CBS Data. “The Establishment Clause would not suggest you must censor and stamp out any non secular demonstration.”


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“Courageous to some and offensive to others”

In filings with the Supreme Courtroom, authorized professionals for the district argue it acted inside its authority to regulate Kennedy’s “very public speech” and declare he “tells a breathless story of authoritarian authorities forbidding personal non secular expression, insisting that besides the court docket docket applies his most popular licensed check out, non secular observe could be quashed all through the nation.”

Beneath the Supreme Courtroom’s jurisprudence, the varsity district’s curiosity in shielding school college students from non secular coercion and stopping workers from “commandeering authorities events” outweighs Kennedy’s curiosity in praying with school college students, the district argued.

Laser well-known that Kennedy was not precluded from praying on his private, even when he was thought-about “on accountability.” Nonetheless it was the place and time at which he chosen to work together throughout the observe that left school college students feeling pressured to hitch.

“If this coach had been in precise reality doing what he says he was doing, which is praying in a private and solitary methodology, we might not be proper right here, because of that’s fantastic. You would not have to go away that behind when you turn into a public official,” she acknowledged. “Nonetheless non secular freedom is not the right to utilize the flexibility of the state to favor one set of religious beliefs over others, to impose one set of religious beliefs on public school school college students.”

The dispute between Kennedy and the Bremerton School District has attracted a slew of friend-of-the-court briefs, along with from current and former Nationwide Soccer League players, and former collegiate athletes and coaches.

In a single transient filed in help of Kennedy on behalf of Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, Chicago Bears quarterback Nick Foles and former NFL quarterback Drew Stanton, amongst others, the current and former players invoked Colin Kaepernick — though at first not by determine — kneeling by the nationwide anthem to protest racial injustice.

“That observe, like Kennedy’s prayers, is controversial — courageous to some and offensive to others,” they argued. “However when Joe Kennedy had taken a knee to protest racial injustice, the district nearly undoubtedly would not have argued that his speech was come what may the state’s. Pretty, there would have been no question that it was protected personal speech.”

As a result of the players “can attest from their experience the least bit ranges of sports activities actions— highschool, college, {and professional} —  audiences understand symbolic acts of speech on the sector to duplicate the views of the particular person athletes and coaches who interact in them, whether or not or not they’re Colin Kaepernick, Tim Tebow, Shaquille O’Neal, or Joe Kennedy. The analysis would not change because of the speech is non secular barely than political,” they knowledgeable the Supreme Courtroom.

Dys, too, acknowledged that the First Modification protects the rights of every Kaepernick and Kennedy to take a knee, whether or not or not in an expression of free speech or free practice.

“One is speech and one is free practice, nevertheless they’re inside quite a lot of phrases of each other,” he acknowledged. “They’re every protected by the First Modification, and they also’re allowed to have that correct.”

Nonetheless a bunch of former expert soccer gamers and collegiate athletes in assist of the varsity district warned the connection between a coach and athlete in highschool athletics is unique, because it’s “extraordinarily inclined to being coercive,” and should be thought-about by the Supreme Courtroom as a result of it weighs the case.

“The doc proper right here demonstrates that Mr. Kennedy’s actions had the propensity to, and did, lead players to actually really feel compelled to participate in Mr. Kennedy’s expressions of faith even once they may barely not have carried out so,” the earlier athletes, along with former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe and former NFL working once more Obafemi Ayanbadejo.

A selection from the Supreme Courtroom is predicted by the highest of June.

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