Coach Joseph Kennedy was fired from his job as a high school football coach in the Bremerton School District after he knelt at midfield after games to offer a quiet personal prayer. The school allowed other on-duty employees to engage in personal secular conduct at the time but would not allow Coach Kennedy to engage in his personal religious conduct.
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. The U.S. Supreme Court found in favor of Coach Kennedy’s Free Speech and Religious Exercise claims, and held in part:
A government entity’s concerns about phantom constitutional violations do not justify actual violations of an individual’s First Amendment rights. Respect for religious expressions is indispensable to life in a free and diverse Republic. Here, a government entity sought to punish an individual for engaging in a personal religious observance, based on a mistaken view that it has a duty to suppress religious observances even as it allows comparable secular speech. The Constitution neither mandates nor tolerates that kind of discrimination.
On June 27, 2022, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of Coach Kennedy on a 6-3 decision.
Our Role in this Case
The Independence Law Center represented amici curiae parties, the Pennsylvania Family Institute and numerous other family policy councils around the country, by filing an amici brief on their behalf supporting Coach Kennedy. Our brief explains that when something as small as a 30-second prayer at the end of a football game can cause a coach to be fired, but teachers are crossing the line by advocating for any manner of political or ideological views in the classroom, it’s clear that we’ve not achieved neutrality towards religion. Religious speech should be treated with the same respect as other speech, not reacted to like asbestos that must be remediated from school. First Liberty represented Coach Kennedy.