Supreme Court to Hear Case of Coach Who Lost His Job Over Postgame Prayers

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U.S.|Supreme Court to Hear Case of Coach Who Lost His Job Over Postgame Prayers

A national appeals tribunal ruled that a schoolhouse committee successful Washington State could necessitate the manager to halt praying astatine the 50-yard enactment aft precocious schoolhouse shot games.

The Supreme Court declined to perceive  an earlier entreaty  successful  the lawsuit  successful  2019.
Credit...Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

Adam Liptak

Jan. 14, 2022, 5:28 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court agreed connected Friday to perceive an entreaty from a precocious schoolhouse shot manager who mislaid his occupation aft defying schoolhouse administrators by kneeling and praying astatine the 50-yard enactment aft his team’s games.

The coach, Joseph A. Kennedy, said the actions of schoolhouse committee officials successful Bremerton, Wash., violated his rights to escaped code and escaped workout of religion. The officials responded that the schoolhouse was entitled to necessitate that its employees refrain from nationalist prayer.

When the Supreme Court declined to perceive an earlier entreaty successful the lawsuit successful 2019, 4 justices issued a statement questioning a preliminary ruling successful favour of the officials from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, successful San Francisco.

“The Ninth Circuit’s knowing of the escaped code rights of public-school teachers is troubling and whitethorn warrant reappraisal successful the future,” Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote astatine the time. He was joined by Justices Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas.

“What is possibly astir troubling astir the Ninth Circuit’s opinion,” Justice Alito added, “is connection that tin beryllium understood to mean that a coach’s work to service arsenic a bully relation exemplary requires the manager to refrain from immoderate manifestation of spiritual religion — adjacent erstwhile the manager is plainly not connected duty.”

After further proceedings, a unanimous three-judge sheet of the Ninth Circuit again ruled against Mr. Kennedy, saying that schoolhouse officials were entitled to forbid his nationalist prayers to debar a imaginable usurpation of the First Amendment’s prohibition of authorities constitution of religion.

The afloat Ninth Circuit declined to rehear the case implicit the objections of 11 judges. The 2 sides sharply disagreed astir however to qualify Mr. Kennedy’s actions.

Judge Milan D. Smith Jr., the writer of the sheet opinion, wrote that “Kennedy made it his ngo to intertwine religion with football.”

“He led the squad successful supplication successful the locker country earlier each game, and immoderate players began to articulation him for his postgame prayer, too, wherever his signifier yet evolved to see full-blown spiritual speeches to, and prayers with, players from some teams aft the game, conducted portion the players were inactive connected the tract and portion fans remained successful the stands,” Judge Smith wrote.

In response, Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain said the sheet sentiment had gotten things backward. “It is axiomatic that teachers bash not ‘shed’ their First Amendment protections ‘at the schoolhouse gate,’” helium wrote, quoting a 1969 Supreme Court decision. “Yet the sentiment successful this lawsuit obliterates specified law protections by announcing a caller regularisation that immoderate code by a public-school teacher oregon coach, portion connected the timepiece and successful earshot of others, is taxable to plenary power by the government.”

Rachel Laser, the president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which represents the schoolhouse board, urged the justices to see the interests of students erstwhile it hears the case, Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, No. 21-418.

“No kid attending nationalist schoolhouse should person to commune to play schoolhouse sports,” Ms. Laser said successful a statement. “No pupil should ever beryllium made to consciousness excluded — whether it’s successful the schoolroom oregon connected the shot tract — due to the fact that they don’t stock the spiritual beliefs of their coaches, teachers oregon chap students.”

Kelly Shackelford, the president of First Liberty Institute, which represents Mr. Kennedy, said successful a connection that “no teacher oregon manager should suffer their occupation for simply expressing their religion portion successful public.”

“By taking this important case,” helium said, “the Supreme Court tin support the close of each American to prosecute successful backstage spiritual expression, including praying successful public, without fearfulness of punishment.”

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