Supreme Court to hear case of Bremerton coach in lawsuit over praying at games

Jan 14, 2022, 3:50 PM | Updated: Jan 15, 2022, 8:06 am
Joe Kennedy, Bremerton football coach...
Former Bremerton High School football coach Joe Kennedy. (Courtesy photo)
(Courtesy photo)

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case of former Bremerton High School football coach Joe Kennedy, who made headlines for refusing the school’s request to cease prayer on the sidelines in 2017.

Bremerton coach turns to Supreme Court for second time in lawsuit over praying at games

A previous ruling from the Ninth Circuit District Court stated that the Bremerton School District had not violated Kennedy’s religious and free speech rights when they told him not to pray with students after games on the football field.

After the school decided not to renew his contract, a years-long court battle ensued, beginning with Kennedy suing the school district in an attempt to get reinstated. After losing in district court, he filed his lawsuit with the U.S. Supreme Court in 2019. Justices declined to hear the case, ruling that while some of them did not necessarily agree with the lower court’s ruling, the case would be difficult to continue on factual grounds.

In July 2021, a U.S. Court of Appeals similarly declined to re-hear the case, leaving the Ninth Circuit District Court’s ruling in place.

At the time of their 2019 ruling, Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanagh had called the Ninth Circuit’s view on free speech “troubling,” indicating that the case may still “justify review in the future.” That position eventually formed the basis for Kennedy’s second appeal to the Supreme Court filed in September of 2021.

Former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and former Seattle Seahawk Steve Largent were among those who filed “friend-of-the-court” briefs in support of Kennedy’s appeal to the Supreme Court.

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“Six years away from the football field has been far too long,” Kennedy said in a Friday press release. “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.”

As for whether Kennedy might prevail, former Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna has previously pointed out he may be operating on problematic legal grounds.

“Students can form Bible study groups, prayer groups. Muslim students can get together and organize prayers during the day,” McKenna told KIRO Radio in 2019. “As long as they are doing it on their own, it’s fine. It’s when staff gets involved, … as agents of the government, you get to a problem here.”

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Supreme Court to hear case of Bremerton coach in lawsuit over praying at games