Adding another major case about religion and public education to its docket, the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear the appeal of a former public high school football coach in Washington state who was removed from his job for praying on the field in defiance of his supervisors.
The case of Joseph A. Kennedy has become a cause célèbre in conservative legal circles, and the high court’s grant of his appeal does not come as a surprise. In 2019, when the coach’s case reached the court at a preliminary stage, four conservative justices expressed sympathy for his arguments and suggested a federal appeals court had a “troubling” understanding of the free speech rights of public school educators.
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said in the 2019 statement that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in San Francisco, had suggested in an opinion “that a coach’s duty to serve as a good role model requires the coach to refrain from any manifestation of religious faith—even when the coach is plainly not on duty.”
“The suggestion that even while off duty, a teacher or coach cannot engage in any outward manifestation of religious faith is remarkable,” Alito wrote, in a statement respecting the court’s decision not to take up Kennedy’s case at that time because of some undeveloped factual matters. Alito’s statement was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil M. Gorsuch, and Brett M. Kavanaugh.
A continuing controversy over post-game prayers.
Some of the facts in the coach’s case have been a matter of contention. Kennedy was the assistant varsity football coach and the head coach of the junior varsity team at Bremerton High School in Bremerton, Wash., in the fall of 2015 when his post-game prayers caused controversy.
Bremerton district officials advised Kennedy that he could give inspirational talks to team members before and after games, but he could not lead or encourage student prayers, which the district believed could be coercive to students. The coach complied for several weeks, but sought an accommodation from the district to continue his post-game prayers. The school district rejected his view that his job responsibilities ended when the football game did.
When the coach continued to pray on the field at the end of two more games, the district placed him on administrative leave, and he did not seek to renew his contract.
Source : https://www.edweek.org/policy-politics/supreme-court-to-hear-case-of-coach-who-prayed-after-games-in-defiance-of-school-district/2022/01469