ACLJ Filing Critical Religious Liberty Amicus Brief at Supreme Court To Defend High School Coach Who Was Fired for SILENT Prayer

By 

Jordan Sekulow

|
January 31

4 min read

Religious Liberty

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Imagine you’re a high school football coach, and a person of faith. After every game, when the team is on the sidelines and the crowds are moving to the parking lot – you step out onto the empty field and you kneel down and pray, giving thanks to God for a good game and the health of your young players. And then the school fires you for it.

It happened to a coach at a Washington State high school, and it could happen to you.

Now the case, and the fate of this Christian coach – and prayer and religious liberty under the Constitution – rests in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court. As reported:

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case of a former Bremerton High School assistant football coach who alleged he was fired in 2015 for refusing to stop praying on the field following games, attorneys on both sides of the issue said . . . .

Joseph Kennedy was the assistant coach of the Bremerton High School football team. For seven years, Coach Kennedy would wait until the players cleared the field, then he would kneel in the middle of the field and pray SILENTLY for 15-30 seconds. There was never a complaint from his players, fellow coaches, or the parents.

Nevertheless, Bremerton school officials eventually ordered Coach Kennedy to stop praying, saying it could be perceived as the school’s, and thereby the government’s, endorsement of religion. When Kennedy requested a religious exemption to continue his tradition of praying after the games, the school district summarily implemented a sweeping new ban prohibiting all employees from engaging in any “demonstrative religious activity,” either silently or audibly, when on-duty and within view of a student or the public.

Coach Kennedy expressed that this was unacceptable to his personal, constitutionally protected religious beliefs, at which point he was terminated.

Our good friends at the First Liberty Institute filed a lawsuit against the school district, defending Coach Kennedy’s First Amendment right to engage in private religious expression. The federal district court, and then the ultra-Left Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, ruled for the school district. The Ninth Circuit concluded that the District’s goal of avoiding a purported Establishment Clause violation trumped Coach Kennedy’s First Amendment rights.

At that point, Coach Kennedy’s case was presented to the Supreme Court for review, and the Court has agreed to hear the case.

The fact that this coach was stripped of his livelihood for praying silently is an egregious violation of constitutionally protected religious liberty, and quite frankly, it’s just offensive.

And if it isn’t challenged, and overturned, it could likely be just the beginning for believers. Who will they target next? Imagine a surgeon at a publicly funded hospital who silently prays for God to guide his hands before he enters the operating theater being fired. What if you or your family member who works in federal, state, or local government service could simply be fired for quiet prayer before eating lunch at the office? This sets a dangerous precedent. We know radical, anti-Christian forces will not stop until they ban public prayer altogether.

We aren’t standing by as our religious liberty rights are eroded away before our eyes. Our legal team is preparing to file a critical amicus brief at the Supreme Court in defense of Coach Kennedy, prayer, and religious liberty. We will detail both how the Founders included the Establishment Clause in the Bill of Rights to protect religious liberty, not squelch it. We will also detail, as we have many times over the last several decades, how prayer is a fundamental protected religious liberty right. Religious liberty is known as our First Freedom for a reason.

The ACLJ has been defending prayer and religious liberty on school campuses and in the public square at the Supreme Court for decades. We've won monumental victories. In fact, we recently told you how we filed in an appeals court case where a juror was thrown out for praying, and we helped win the victory for the juror. And we successfully fought in court to end California’s attempt to shut down singing in church during the pandemic and filed amicus briefs to successfully stop the shutdown of other churches nationwide.

We cannot allow anti-Christian, anti-prayer forces to literally turn the Constitution on its head and trample our constitutional right to pray.

Our amicus brief will be due early this March and oral arguments held in April. We will continue to keep you updated as the case progresses. Take action with us and add your name to our brief by signing our petition.