The ACLJ Participates in Another Supreme Court Victory as the Court Upholds Coach Kennedy's Right to Pray after Football Games in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District


Harry G. Hutchison

June 29

3 min read

Religious Liberty



For a long time, countless progressive elites and liberals have emphasized that a wall of separation has been established between public life and religion. In reality, of course, there has never been a wall of separation. Instead, the Supreme Court has often been dancing in the dark because the Establishment Clause constitutes little more than a dimly lit line that supplies rich opportunities for confusion to erupt. Ever since the 1930s, confusion has often allowed a deliberate effort by progressives to seek to eradicate religion from the public square. This Court ruling stops that effort dead in its tracks.

The facts in this case are transparently obvious. Petitioner Joseph Kennedy lost his job as a high school football coach because he knelt at midfield after games to offer a brief, quiet personal prayer. Equally clear, his prayer did not involve or implicate his duties as a school football coach. Despite his non-disruptive conduct, the Bremerton School District discharged Coach Kennedy.

Among other things, Coach Kennedy alleged that the school district’s actions violated the First Amendment’s Free Exercise clause and Free Speech clause. The District Court found that the sole reason for the school district’s decision was the perceived risk of constitutional liability under the Establishment Clause. In other words, the school district was prepared to uphold the attempt by the Left to impose a heckler’s veto. The Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision consistent with its conservative jurisprudence overruling Roe v. Wade in Dobbs,  rejected the Bremerton school district’s justification for its Left-wing anti-religious discrimination.

In Kennedy v. Bremerton, the Supreme Court reemphasized that the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment vindicate Coach Kennedy’s religious expression from attack. Instead, the Court found that the religious exercise at issue is protected by the Free Exercise Clause, which then shifts the inquiry to an examination under the Free Speech Clause. The Court found that Coach Kennedy’s sincere religious practice was burdened by the school district policy prohibiting prayer because this policy was neither neutral nor generally applicable. Secondly, the Free Speech Clause protects an individual engaging in a personal religious observance from government reprisal because First Amendment rights are not eradicated by simply entering the schoolhouse door. Properly understood, Coach Kennedy was acting within a private nonemployment capacity when he knelt to pray.

Consequently, in order to prevail the school district had the burden of showing that its policy comports with strict scrutiny. It cannot do so here. Additionally, the Supreme Court rightly invalidated the Lemon v. Kurtzman test and its focus on censoring disfavored religious speech as well as the endorsement test. Instead, in place of Lemon and the endorsement test, the Supreme Court holds that the Establishment Clause must be interpreted with reference to historical practices and understandings and the line drawn between permissible and impermissible conduct must accord with history that faithfully reflects the understanding of the Founding Fathers.

This decision represents a victory for freedom of religion and free speech. This case provides a framework for more victories ahead.