The U.S. Supreme Court, with its nominal 6-3 ‘conservative’ majority, appears poised to either shore up some fundamental constitutional rights or substantially gut them.
The high court has heard and is currently considering cases involving substantial state-imposed limits on abortion as well as the extent of or limits to the Second Amendment’s “infringement” clause. And now, SCOTUS has agreed to hear what could become a landmark First Amendment case involving the free practice of religion.
Specifically, justices have agreed to hear a case involving former Washington state high school assistant varsity football coach Joseph Kennedy, a Marine veteran, who started a tradition in 2008 of kneeling and praying after games at Bremerton High School.
Later, some students decided voluntarily to join him but in 2015, a school administrator addressed the issue with Kennedy after someone on an opposing team complained about it.
“I think I just might have been fired for praying,” Kennedy later posted on Facebook.
Tune in to https://t.co/mbVQNWAE0O at 8:45a CT. We’ll be on the Court’s steps and stream the argument. After the case is heard, join Facebook Live to hear from Paul Clement, Kelly Shackelford, and Coach Kennedy. It’s a big day, and we want you to be part of it! pic.twitter.com/4YTsHaXlTR
— First Liberty Institute (@1stLiberty) April 25, 2022
Following an investigation by the high school, Kennedy was put on administrative leave and banned from “participating in any capacity in the BHS football program.”
The Daily Wire adds:
Non-profit conservative legal organization First Liberty Institute took up Kennedy’s case in 2016, and lost in both district court and at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. In 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court also denied the request, but four justices – Alito, Thomas, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh – issued a statement expressing serious concern about how the school district and the lower courts had understood the First Amendment rights of public school teachers.
The Supreme Court sent the case back U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton, who again sided with the school district in 2020, as did the 9th Circuit in mid-2021. Attorneys with First Liberty and Kirkland & Ellis refiled the case at the U.S. Supreme Court in September 2021 and the high court agreed in January to hear it.
“Today, nearly eight years after being fired for praying by himself at the 50-yard line after a football game, Coach Kennedy filed his final brief with the U.S. Supreme Court,” Hiram Sasser, executive general counsel for First Liberty Institute, said in a statement after filing a brief last week.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State then released a statement opposing the Supreme Court’s announcement.
“No child attending public school should have to pray to play school sports. No student should ever be made to feel excluded – whether it’s in the classroom or on the football field – because they don’t share the religious beliefs of their coaches, teachers or fellow students,” Americans United President and CEO Rachel Laser said.
In fact, as we reported, no one was “forced” to participate in prayer. What Kennedy was doing was all on him; some kids decided to join in and there is nothing ‘mandatory’ about that. And of course, that also means no one was ‘excluded’, either, whether they share similar religious beliefs or not. That’s not really the issue.
The issue is whether or not the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom and expression supplants another person’s decision to be offended by someone praying in public — on their own, and without coercing anyone in the process.
Personally, we think it does. So here’s hoping SCOTUS reaffirms our founders’ vision that Americans ought to be free to pray anywhere, anytime — or not.