Christian coach, Joseph A. Kennedy, fired for praying on the field in 2015 will return to coaching, following a 6-3 Supreme Court ruling in June 2022.
Washington state’s Bremerton school board settled with Kennedy in early March 2023, reinstating the ex-Marine as assistant coach.
The agreement also comes with a USD $1.7-million-dollar payout, covering legal fees, and compensation for lost income.
Kennedy was fired by the school for “religious conduct,” in the name of “protecting religious freedom.”
His alleged crime? Kneeling to offer a 15-second, quiet personal prayer in the centre of the field after three games.
Students eventually joined him.
In a March 17 woke polemic – dressed up as a press release – school board President, Alyson Rotter, justified the decision, stating Kennedy was fired on the grounds of ‘protecting the ‘religious freedom’ of all students and their families.’
The Bremerton board president implied Kennedy was intolerant, unreasonable, and had forced kids to pray, stating, “We repeatedly offered to accommodate Mr. Kennedy’s desire to pray, as long as he was not delivering prayers to students, or coercing students to join him.”
Boasting about “inclusion,” the same school board that excluded Kennedy from making a living, declared, “Will work to ensure that the Bremerton School District remains a welcoming, inclusive environment for all students, families, and school staff.”
Represented by First Liberty, Kennedy’s case eventually made its way onto the national stage.
Backed by a majority on the Supreme Court bench, Kennedy’s representatives successfully argued, Bremerton School District had violated the Christian coach’s constitutionally enshrined right to free speech, and religious freedom.
The spectacular 75-page SCOTUS ruling, damned the Bremerton School District, with the SCOTUS majority highlighting, “The Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment protect an individual engaging in a personal religious observance from government reprisal; the Constitution neither mandates nor permits the government to suppress such religious expression.”
“No one questions that Mr. Kennedy seeks to engage in a sincerely motivated religious exercise involving giving ‘thanks through prayer’ briefly ‘on the playing field’ at the conclusion of each game he coaches,” SCOTUS added.
“In forbidding Mr. Kennedy’s brief prayer, the District’s challenged policies were neither neutral nor generally applicable. By its own admission, the District sought to restrict Mr. Kennedy’s actions at least in part because of their religious character.”
In the 6-3 damning response, the majority of chief justices scolded the School District for applying a double-standard, writing, “The District explained that it could not allow an on-duty employee to engage in religious conduct, even though it allowed other on-duty employees to engage in personal secular conduct.”
Condemning one proposal, which would have seen Kennedy be fired on grounds he was not properly supervising students, post-game, SOCTUS said, “the supervisory requirement was not applied in an even-handed way.”
Thus, showing the Secular school’s hostile intent towards its Christian employee.
“When Mr. Kennedy uttered the three prayers that resulted in his suspension, he was not engaged in speech ‘ordinarily within the scope’ of his duties as a coach,” SCOTUS continued.
“Simply put,” the brief noted, “Mr. Kennedy’s prayers did not ‘owe their existence’ to Mr. Kennedy’s responsibilities as a public employee.”
Pre-empting Board President Alyson Rotter’s more recent doubling-down on accusations that Kennedy coerced students to pray, the concurring Supreme court justices said, the claim was without evidence (pp.12, 29, 30, 32, 33, 34).
Dissenting, Obama-era Chief Justice, Sonia Sotomayor, grasping at straws, argued in favour of the School.
Sotomayor stated, no evidence of coercion didn’t rule out the fact there was “indirect coercion.”
Kennedy’s “actions spoke louder than his words,” Sotomayer ruled.
“Kennedy’s prayers had a greater coercive potential because they were delivered not by a student, but by their coach,” she added.
Responding to the School Board’s argument that it was defending religious freedom, by restricting religious freedom, the SCOTUS majority fired back,
“The only added twist here is the District’s suggestion not only that it may prohibit teachers from engaging in any demonstrative religious activity, but that it must do so in order to conform to the Constitution.
“Such a rule,” SCOTUS said, “would be a sure sign that our Establishment Clause jurisprudence had gone off the rails.
“In the name of protecting religious liberty, the [Bremerton School] District Board would have us suppress it.
“Rather than respect the First Amendment’s double protection for religious expression, it would have us preference secular activity.”
Summing up Kennedy’s 6-year legal battle, First Liberty wrote, “Banning a coach from praying, just because he can be seen by the public, is wrong and violates the Constitution. No American should be forced to choose between their faith and the job they love.”