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Supreme Court Takes Up Case of Praying Football Coach

The court will consider free speech and government speech in a case that left a football coach unemployed

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear arguments on a case involving a high school football coach fired for praying on the field following weekly games. 

Joe Kennedy says his constitutional rights were violated when he was removed from his coaching job for praying at the 50-yard line following high school football games at Bremerton High School in western Washington state.

“Every American should be able to have faith in public and not have to be worried about being fired over it,” he said.

According to a report by the New York Times, the district permitted Kennedy to pray by himself. However, following three instances of the coach praying with students on the field and in locker rooms, he was placed on administrative leave, and his contract was ended in 2016.

According to the district’s briefing to the Supreme Court, “administrators received threats and hate mail. Strangers confronted and screamed obscenities at the head coach, who feared for his safety.”

The district noted that it had received multiple complaints and threats following news of Kennedy’s prayers for allegedly having students join him.  

In their argument to the Supreme Court, Kennedy’s lawyers said all school staff should “remain free to speak and pray as individuals on both sides of the schoolhouse gates.”

Kennedy lost his first attempt at appealing the loss of his job at the district court level and before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The appellate court held that Kennedy’s prayer amounted to governmental speech that the First Amendment does not protect.

The appeals court pointed out that the school district offered to accommodate his religious exercise in a way that “would not be perceived as District endorsement of religion” by providing a private location to pray. However, Kennedy rejected the accommodations.

“They said I could pray as long as it didn’t interfere with my coaching duties. The accommodations they gave me completely removed me for a long period of time away from the very job I had been hired to do,” Kennedy told CNN.

The Supreme Court has previously denied prayer as a requirement in public schools and blocked organized prayer led by students at high school football games. 

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