Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which represents the Bremerton School District, issued the following statement today in response to the Supreme Court brief filed by Joseph Kennedy’s attorneys in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District:
“As they have done for more than six years, the lawyers representing Mr. Kennedy continue to spin a deceitful narrative of what happened when a part-time football coach violated the religious freedom of his students,” said Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United. “Mr. Kennedy’s latest Supreme Court brief doubles down on a version of events that the lower courts have declared to be false.
“The facts of this case are clear: High school players felt pressured to join their coach’s public prayers at the 50-yard line at public high school football games,” Laser said. “Our country’s foundational principle of church-state separation means that no one should ever have to choose between their religious freedom and being part of the team.
“Mr. Kennedy’s attorneys are distorting the facts as part of a coordinated effort by a shadow network of religious extremists and their political allies to undermine church-state separation,” Laser said. “The Supreme Court should protect the First Amendment rights of students – and all of us – by affirming that the Bremerton School District did the right thing.”
On Friday, Americans United asked the Supreme Court to consider whether Kennedy’s case is moot because he sold his home in Bremerton, Wash., and moved to Pensacola, Fla., almost two years ago. Given that Kennedy has settled into a new life 2,800 miles away from the Bremerton School District, it seems unlikely that he could fulfill the year-round, in-person duties if he were reinstated to the coaching position, which pays $5,304 per year. Yet being hired back as a coach and allowed to have public prayer on the 50-yard line is the only relief he is seeking from the court. “In accordance with Article III’s mandate, it appears that this case no longer presents a live controversy for the Court to adjudicate,” the brief states.
“The Bremerton School District respects Mr. Kennedy’s many good reasons for moving to Florida, and it wishes him and his family comfort in trying times.” Laser said. “Family hardships and obligations do not, however, change the Constitution. The Court shouldn’t hear this case, and it certainly shouldn’t change more than a half century of settled law to strip public-school students and families of their religious freedom.”
Joseph Kennedy, a former football coach at Bremerton High School in Washington, violated the religious freedom of his players by pressuring them to join his public prayers at the 50-yard line at their football games. The school district repeatedly offered him time and space for personal prayer while on the job, but he refused, demanding that he be able to pray at the center of the field, out loud, and with students.
Kennedy sued the district. Despite lower courts affirming that Kennedy’s actions undermined the religious freedom of Bremerton’s students, Kennedy’s lawyers have spun a deceitful narrative to push this case to the Supreme Court. Americans United – joined by religious and nonreligious communities alike – is fighting to protect the separation of church and state, the religious freedom of these students, and the constitutional rights of all Americans.
Americans United joined the school district’s legal team in 2021. The team includes AU Vice President and Legal Director Richard B. Katskee, Litigation Counsel Bradley Girard, Steven Gey Constitutional Litigation Fellow Alex Bodaken, Madison Legal Fellow Gabriela Hybel, and Michael B. Tierney from the law firm Tierney, Correa & Zeinemann, P.C.