The Supreme Court has confirmed it will review the case of a praying football coach – finally.
The case involves Coach Joe Kennedy, a former high school football coach at Bremerton School District in Washington State.
He was fired after taking a knee in silent prayer after football games.
Kelly Shackelford, of First Liberty Institute, which has worked on behalf of Kennedy, said, "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."
Paul Clement, former U.S. solicitor general, explained, "We look forward to presenting the coach’s case, which goes to the heart of the First Amendment, to the Justices."
Kennedy, in a statement released by his lawyers, said, "Six years away from the football field has been far too long. I am extremely grateful that the Supreme Court is going to hear my case and pray that I will soon be able to be back on the field coaching the game and players I love."
The Supreme Court declined to review the case in January 2019, but allowed the lower courts to continue to develop the factual record. At that time, four justices (Justice Alito joined by Justices Thomas, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh) attached a statement signaling that the court would be open to hearing the case at a future time, saying 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."
The case returned to the lower courts, where a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit sided with the school district.
Multiple personalities have advocated for Kennedy's position, including Mike Pence and Tommy Bowden, son of legendary football coach Bobby Bowden, NFL Hall of Famer Steve Largent and three-time Super Bowl winner Chad Hennings.
Kennedy's offense had been 30 seconds of personal prayer at the end of games.
John Bursch, of the Alliance Defending Freedom, said, "As the friend-of-the-court brief we joined urging the Supreme Court to take this case explains, no right is more fundamental to our Constitution than the ability of every citizen to give personal thanks to God for the blessings of His provision. 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."
Kennedy had argued his prayers at the 50-yard line after games were not the same as being in front of a classroom. He contends he was speaking as a private citizen rather than a public employee, whose speech can be restricted by the school district.
Let’s show our support for Coach Kennedy, a former Marine who didn’t back down on prayer. https://t.co/K8VlViouIN
— Franklin Graham (@Franklin_Graham) August 25, 2017
Students had voluntarily joined the coach in prayer a number of times, and he eventually adjusted his practice to pray at a time when they were occupied and could not join.
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