(6-27-22) The Supreme Court, in a 6-3 opinion, rules that the Bremerton Washington school district violated the First Amendment rights of Joe Kennedy. Kennedy who was a Bremerton high school football coach had lost his job for praying at the 50-yard line after games.
Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the Court’s opinion –
“Here, a government entity sought to punish an individual for engaging in a brief, quiet, personal religious observance doubly protected by the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment. And the only meaningful justification the government offered for its reprisal rested on a mistaken view that it had a duty to ferret out and suppress. Religious observances even as it allows comparable secular speech. The Constitution neither mandates nor tolerates that kind of discrimination.”
Joe Kennedy was a junior varsity head coach and varsity assistant coach with the Bremerton School District in Washington from 2008 to 2015. He began the practice of reciting a post-game prayer by himself, but eventually students started joining him. According to court documents, this evolved into motivational speeches that included religious themes. After an opposing coach brought it to the principal’s attention, the school district told Kennedy to stop. He did, temporarily, then notified the school that he would resume the practice.
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The Bremerton school district then offered to let Kennedy pray in other locations before and after games, or for him to pray on the 50-yard line after everyone else had left the premises, but he refused, insisting that he would continue his regular practice. After continuing the prayers at two more games, the school district placed Kennedy on leave.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for the three dissenters –
“It elevates one individual’s interest in personal religious exercise, in the exact time and place of that individual’s choosing, over society’s interest in protecting the separation between church and state, eroding the protections for religious liberty for all.”