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U.S. Supreme Court reverses Ninth Circuit decision allowing school district to fire coach because of his silent 15-second prayer

In a 6-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of former high school football coach Joe Kennedy to take a knee in quiet prayer after football games even if he can be seen by students and the general public.  Importantly, today’s decision respects the Constitutional rights of all public-school teachers and coaches to engage in a brief, personal prayer in public.

“This is a tremendous victory for Coach Kennedy and religious liberty for all Americans,” said Kelly Shackelford, President, CEO, and Chief Counsel for First Liberty. “Our Constitution protects the right of every American to engage in private religious expression, including praying in public, without fear of getting fired.  We are grateful that the Supreme Court recognized what the Constitution and law have always said – American’s are free to live out their faith in public.”

Paul Clement, former U.S. Solicitor General and First Liberty network attorney who argued Kennedy’s case before the Justices, said, “After seven long years, Coach Kennedy can finally return to the place he belongs – coaching football and quietly praying by himself after the game.  This is a great victory for Coach Kennedy and the First Amendment.”

In response to today’s opinion, Coach Kennedy said, “This is just so awesome.  All I’ve ever wanted was to be back on the field with my guys. I am incredibly grateful to the Supreme Court, my fantastic legal team, and everyone who has supported us. I thank God for answering our prayers and sustaining my family through this long battle.”

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Coach Joe praying as he did when he was suspended and then fired from Bremerton High School (BHS)

According to the opinion, “Respect for religious expressions is indispensable to life in a free and diverse Republic—whether those expressions take place in a sanctuary or on a field, and whether they manifest through the spoken word or a bowed head. Here, a government entity sought to punish an individual for engaging in a brief, quiet, personal religious observance doubly protected by the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment. And the only meaningful justification the government offered for its reprisal rested on a mistaken view that it had a duty to ferret out and suppress religious observances even as it allows comparable secular speech. The Constitution neither mandates nor tolerates that kind of discrimination.”


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