|In 2008, Joseph Kennedy, a retired Marine and devout Christian, began working as a football coach for Bremerton High School in Washington. After each game, Kennedy took a knee at the 50-yard line and offered up a brief, silent prayer for his players’ safety, what the players accomplished, and the opportunity to be a part of their lives. The practice continued for years without raising any red flags. However, in September 2015, the superintendent sent Kennedy a letter informing him that any prayer must be physically separate from any student activity and that students could not join him. Kennedy persisted in taking a knee in silent prayer after football games and did not prohibit students from joining him if they wished to do so. The school district placed Kennedy on administrative leave, with the head coach recommending that he not be rehired due to failing to follow district policy by visibly praying on the field. Both the district court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals subsequently upheld the school district’s actions, ruling that they were justified in prohibiting Kennedy from silently praying after games on the field in view of others due to the risk that someone might think the school was endorsing a religion.
Weighing in on the matter before the U.S. Supreme Court, The Rutherford Institute argued for the courts to better distinguish between what constitutes a perceived endorsement of religion by a school official in violation of the Establishment Clause versus a personal, private expression of faith as protected by the Free Exercise Clause. The Court agreed that the government cannot use the Establishment Clause to suppress religious liberty and give preference to secular activity.
The Supreme Court’s opinion and the amicus brief in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District are available at www.rutherford.org. Affiliate attorney Christopher F. Moriarty assisted in advancing the First Amendment arguments in the Kennedy v. Bremerton School District brief.
The Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties organization, provides legal assistance at no charge to individuals whose constitutional rights have been threatened or violated and educates the public on a wide spectrum of issues affecting their freedoms.