After dropping his job for praying on the sector, ex-high college soccer coach Joe Kennedy brings case to Supreme Court docket docket

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Take heed to dwell audio of the Supreme Court docket docket’s oral arguments inside the case proper right here.


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

And so, after educating 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 sustaining the players safe, for trustworthy play and for spirited rivals. Nevertheless rapidly adequate, the number of players gathering alongside Kennedy after video video games grew to include a majority of the workers, though participation diversified. On the very least one guardian talked about his son felt “compelled to participate” out of fear he would lose out on collaborating in time.

And shortly adequate, the prayers by Kennedy, himself a graduate of Bremerton Extreme School, developed 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 college’s soccer space. 

Ted S. Warren / AP


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

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

Kennedy argued he was partaking in constitutionally protected non secular expression, and on Monday, the US Supreme Court docket docket will weigh his bid to get his educating job once more and be allowed to want 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 doesn’t look like it needs a rocket scientist or a Supreme Court docket docket justice to find out,” he knowledgeable CBS Info. “I didn’t have to set off any waves, and the issue I needed to do was coach soccer and thank God after the game.”

Nevertheless for defenders of the school district, Kennedy was showing as an agent of the state who, as a public college employee, violated the non secular freedom of students who felt stress to pray-to-play.

“When a coach makes use of the power 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 People United for Separation of Church and State, knowledgeable CBS Info’ Jan Crawford. “Religious freedom is simply not the suitable to impose your religion on others. All of us will need to have it, so that’s why the free prepare and establishment clause work collectively to protect non secular freedom for all of us.”

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

After the Bremerton School District realized of Kennedy’s post-game comply with of praying at midfield in September 2015, it launched an investigation into whether or not or not he was complying with the school 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 inside the locker room or his “inspirational talk about at midfield” after video video games,” the district talked about in a letter dated September 17, 2015, that the actions attainable would violate the First Modification’s Establishment Clause and expose the district to “vital hazard of obligation.”

“Bremerton Extreme School legally risks endorsing or favoring one set of non secular views over others and that isn’t what the Construction ensures,” Laser talked about. “Religious 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 just a few of us.”

The district knowledgeable Kennedy that his talks with faculty college students ought to keep fully secular, and future non secular train he engages in, along with prayer, shouldn’t intrude alongside together with his job duties, must be separate from any scholar train and won’t have participation from the students. 

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

“No reasonably priced observer would possibly 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, private, non-public prayer is speaking on behalf of the state,” his lawyer talked about in a letter to the Bremerton School District. “Pretty the choice, Coach Kennedy is engaged in private non secular expression upon which the state couldn’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 have been singing their fight music, after which knelt on the 50-yard-line, bowed his head, and, joined by players from every teams, members of the media and most 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 depart from his place as an assistant coach for violating its directives. All through a subsequent evaluation of Kennedy’s effectivity, Bremerton’s athletic director useful he not be rehired for the next season, citing a failure to watch district protection and failure to supervise student-athletes after video video games. 

Kennedy chosen to not reapply for his educating place at Bremerton Extreme School, and, in August 2016, filed go properly with in direction of the Bremerton School District in federal district courtroom docket in Tacoma, Washington, arguing it violated his constitutional rights to free speech and free prepare.

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 direction of Kennedy, discovering that “whereas public colleges shouldn’t have unfettered discretion to restrict an employee’s non secular speech, they do have the flexibleness to forestall a coach from praying on the guts of the soccer space immediately after video video games.” 

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

In an announcement from Justice Samuel Alito and joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, the 4 justices talked about it was premature for the Supreme Court docket docket to hearken to Kennedy’s case in the meanwhile, nonetheless warned the ninth Circuit’s “understanding of the free speech rights of public college lecturers is troubling and can justify analysis in the end.”

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

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

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

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

“I was a Marine for 20 years. Supporting and defending the Construction means tons to me. Giving up is simply not one factor that’s in my blood, it is not in my nature,” Kennedy talked about of his extended approved fight to get his job once more. ” I can check out myself inside the mirror, check out my workers over time, and preserve my head up extreme and look them inside the eyes and say hey, I fought the nice fight, I didn’t give up.”

Kennedy’s courtroom docket battle with the school district will come sooner than a Supreme Court docket docket 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 courtroom docket has in present phrases been additional sympathetic to non secular rights.

“The state does not private every ounce of your free expression. They can’t censor you from all of the items you do,” Jeremy Dys, specific counsel for First Liberty, which is representing Kennedy, knowledgeable CBS Info. “The Establishment Clause does not suggest you need to censor and stamp out any non secular demonstration.”


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“Courageous to some and offensive to others”

In filings with the Supreme Court docket docket, authorized professionals for the district argue it acted inside its authority to manage Kennedy’s “very public speech” and declare he “tells a breathless story of authoritarian authorities forbidding private non secular expression, insisting that till the courtroom docket applies his hottest approved examine, non secular comply with will seemingly be quashed all through the nation.”

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

Laser well-known that Kennedy was not precluded from praying on his private, even when he was considered “on obligation.” Nonetheless it was the place and time at which he chosen to work together inside the comply with that left faculty college students feeling pressured to affix.

“If this coach have been the reality is doing what he says he was doing, which is praying in a private and solitary methodology, we might not be proper right here, on account of that’s efficient. You shouldn’t have to go away that behind when you develop right into a public official,” she talked about. “Nevertheless non secular freedom is simply not the suitable to utilize the power of the state to favor one set of non secular beliefs over others, to impose one set of non secular beliefs on public college faculty 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 title — kneeling by the nationwide anthem to protest racial injustice.

“That comply with, 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 almost positively would not have argued that his speech was somehow the state’s. Fairly, there would have been no question that it was protected private 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 reflect the views of the individual athletes and coaches who work together in them, whether or not or not they’re Colin Kaepernick, Tim Tebow, Shaquille O’Neal, or Joe Kennedy. The analysis does not change on account of the speech is non secular comparatively than political,” they knowledgeable the Supreme Court docket docket.

Dys, too, talked about 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 prepare.

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

Nevertheless a bunch of former expert soccer gamers and collegiate athletes in assist of the school district warned the connection between a coach and athlete in highschool athletics is unique, because it’s “extraordinarily susceptible to being coercive,” and must be considered by the Supreme Court docket docket as a result of it weighs the case.

“The report 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 after they would possibly comparatively not have executed 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 Court docket docket is anticipated by the highest of June.

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