BREAKING: IFPC files brief supporting WA football coach fired for praying

Idaho Family Policy Center, along with more than thirty other state-based family policy organizations, has filed an amicus brief with the US Supreme Court in support of Joe Kennedy, a public high school football coach in Washington State who was fired for praying on the field after games.

Coach Kennedy rose to national prominence almost seven years ago when the Bremerton School District told him to stop praying with students before and after football games. Even though all of the students voluntarily decided to join the coach for prayer, the school district contended the activity violated the establishment clause of the United States Constitution because students could feel “coerced” to participate.

Stripped of his ability to continue praying with his players in a group but believing that he still had the right to pray privately, Kennedy began “taking a knee” on the fifty-yard line for silent prayer following the conclusion of each game.

But even private prayer went too far, according to the Bremerton School District, which subsequently placed the coach on suspension and then ended his employment. They claimed that his prayers posed “a genuine risk that the [school] district will be liable for violating the federal and state constitutional rights of students or others.”

In response, Kennedy filed a lawsuit against the school district, demanding that he be reinstated as coach and asserting that the school district had discriminated against him because of his religious beliefs, violating his First Amendment right to exercise his faith.

A federal district court sided with the school district, as did the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Coach Kennedy then appealed to the US Supreme Court, which has agreed to hear oral arguments in the case this spring.

The heart of the case centers around whether public school employees shed their First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse door every day when they show up for work. Idaho Family Policy Center argues in its brief that the school district, as a public entity, showed hostility toward Coach Kennedy and his sincerely held religious beliefs when they insisted that he cease his constitutionally protected activity of praying on the football field.

The founding generation could never have foreseen that the establishment clause of the First Amendment, which bans Congress from establishing a state denomination, would one day be weaponized by public schools and other governmental entities against the Christian faith and its adherents.

But that is exactly what happened to Joe Kennedy. His case, therefore, offers an opportunity for the US Supreme Court to vindicate religious liberty and begin the work of repairing an originalist understanding of the First Amendment.

 

You can read our amicus brief at the website of the US Supreme Court.

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