Supreme Court Takes Up Landmark Religious Freedom Case Where a Football Coach Was Fired for Praying
The United States Supreme Court announced on Tuesday, January 18, 2022, that it will hear oral arguments in landmark religious freedom case Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, in which Joe Kennedy, a former high school football coach being represented by attorneys from First Liberty and Kirkland & Ellis LLP, is urging that the Supreme Court to overturn a lower court ruling that enabled a school board to terminate him for taking a knee in silent prayer following football games.
The Supreme Court originally declined to hear the religious freedom case back in January of 2019. However the Supreme Court authorized lower courts to continue developing the factual record before the religious freedom case could be considered again. At the time, four Justices (Justice Alito joined by Justices Thomas, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh) wrote a statement indicating that the Supreme Court would consider taking up the religious freedom case at a later date. The statement said in part, “The Ninth Circuit’s understanding of the free speech rights of public school teachers is troubling and may justify review in the future.” However, at the time the case was remanded to the lower courts, during which a three-judge panel at the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of the school district, thereby opposing religious freedom.
Many Hopeful The Supreme Court Will Uphold Religious Freedom
Multiple people, including Former Vice President Mike Pence, Tommy Bowden (the son of famed football coach Bobby Bowden), NFL Hall of Famer Steve Largent, and three-time Super Bowl champion Chad Hemmings wrote “friend of the court” briefs asking the Supreme Court to take up the religious freedom case.
In a press release concerning the Supreme Court deciding to again take up the landmark religious freedom case, Kelly Shackelford, President and CEO of First Liberty made a statement on the case, arguing that no school employee should be at risk of termination for praying. Kelly stated, “No teacher or coach should lose their job for simply expressing their faith while in public. By taking this important case, the Supreme Court can protect the right of every American to engage in private religious expression, including praying in public, without fear of punishment.”
Concerning whether the Supreme Court will rule in favor of the coach and religious freedom, Alliance Defending Freedom’s President of Appellate Advocacy made the following statement about the case: “If left intact, the 9th Circuit’s overt hostility to personal religious practice would drum the faithful out of public life. It is absurd to label an act of obvious personal gratitude and humility governmental speech that is prohibited by the Constitution. We look forward to the Supreme Court considering the arguments in this case and affirming the constitutionally protected freedom of public officials to prayerfully practice their faith during working hours.”
– John Paluska, CNJ Staff