Supreme Court is dealing with the matter of the football coach who prayed

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WASHINGTON (AP) – The Supreme Court will deal with a dispute between public school officials and a former high school football coach who wanted to kneel and pray on the field after a game.

The case before judges on Monday involves Joseph Kennedy, a former football coach at Bremerton High School in Bremerton, Washington. For years, the coach would kneel in the middle of the field after the game and lead the students into prayer. The school district eventually learned what he was doing and told him to stop.

Kennedy’s lawyers say the Constitution’s guarantees of freedom of expression and freedom of religion allow them to pray on the field, which students are free to attend. But the school district says Kennedy’s religious speech interfered with students’ own religious freedom rights, may have had the effect of pressuring students to pray and opened the district itself to lawsuits. The school district says it tried to work out a solution so that Kennedy, who is a Christian, could pray in private before or after the game, including on the field after the students had left, but not without Kennedy. The trial followed.

Joe Kennedy, a former assistant football coach at Bremerton High School in Bremerton, Wash., poses for a photo at the school’s football field on March 9, 2022. After losing his coaching job for refusing to kneel in prayer with players and spectators on the field immediately after football games, Kennedy will make his arguments before the US Supreme Court on Monday.

The matter comes to court at a time when conservative justices make up the majority of the court and are sympathetic to the concerns of religious individuals and groups, such as the groups that brought Challenging the coronavirus restrictions that apply to houses of worship.

Meanwhile, Bremerton’s case has already caught the attention of judges. In 2019, the judges refused to engage in the case in the first phase. but Four judges were critical of lower court decisions for the school district, Writing that an appeals court’s “understanding of public school teachers’ right to freedom of speech is disturbing.”

Kennedy began working at Bremerton High School in 2008, and at the end of the game it was his practice – players and coaches from both teams would meet in midfield to shake hands – to stop and kneel to pray. Kennedy said he would like to thank, among other things, what his players have accomplished and for their safety.

Kennedy initially prayed alone at the 50-yard line at the end of the Games, but students began to join him and over time he began to make a short, inspirational talk with religious references. Kennedy says he never asked players to attend or asked any students to pray. He led the team in prayer in the locker room before the games, a practice he already had.

The school district didn’t learn of Kennedy’s practice until 2015. It then told him that he would have to stop praying with students or engaging in highly religious activities while “on duty” as a coach. After Kennedy continued to pray on the field, he was placed on paid leave. His contract expired and he did not reapply for coach the following year, the school says.

A decision is expected before the court’s summer break begins.

The case is Kennedy v Bremerton School District, 21-418.

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