Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which represents the Bremerton School District in Kennedy v. Bremerton, heralds the broad and diverse coalition of organizations and individuals who filed amicus briefs this week with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the public school district’s decision to stop a coach who violated the religious freedom of students when he pressured them to join his public prayers at the 50-yard line at public high school football games.
“Today, dozens of organizations and people that represent religious, education, sports, civil rights and religious freedom communities joined us in fighting to protect students’, and everyone’s, First Amendment rights,” said Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United. “The diversity of this coalition demonstrates the widespread approval for the bedrock constitutional principle of church-state separation. The facts of the case, the laws of our country, and the majority of Americans are on the side of protecting students’ religious freedom.”
Organizations and individuals filing friend-of-the-court briefs in support of Bremerton School District include:
- National religious organizations and clergy from Bremerton, Wash.
- Education groups representing teachers, school administrators, school boards, and charter schools
- Athletes, including retired National Football League players
- Members of the Bremerton, Wash., community
- Civil rights advocates
- First Amendment experts
- Members of Congress
- Organizations representing local governments and government officials
- Social scientists expert in the susceptibility of high school students to coercion
- Retired military chaplains
“There are many examples in history of what happens when religion is mixed with government – people are harmed and faith is sullied. That’s why Baptists have been such strong supporters of the separation of church and state since the founding of America,” said the Rev. Douglas Avilesbernal, Executive Minister of the Evergreen Association of American Baptist Churches, which oversees Washington and several surrounding states and has a church in Bremerton. “As a Baptist preacher, I recognize that people consider me to be an authority figure and look to me for guidance. When I played soccer, I similarly viewed my coach as an authority and would have felt compelled to join him if he and the team gathered at the center of the field right after games.”
“Every football player is conditioned to view his team as a family that sticks together no matter what. And the coach is unquestionably the head of that family,” said Chris Kluwe, a retired NFL punter and current high school football coach. “The coach has the power to decide whether kids get to play and has influence over how they get along with teammates. It’s deeply wrong for any coach to put high school students in the position of turning their backs on the team family if they don’t want to join the coach’s very public prayers on the 50-yard line after games. That’s why the law is so clear that coaches, as authority figures, cannot and should not compel athletes under their care to engage in prayer, either explicitly or implicitly.”
All of the amicus briefs filed in support of Bremerton School District are listed below.
When the Supreme Court hears oral arguments on April 25, AU Vice President and Legal Director Richard B. Katskee will argue on the school district’s behalf. The district’s legal team also includes AU’s Litigation Counsel Bradley Girard, Steven Gey Constitutional Litigation Fellow Alex Bodaken and Madison Legal Fellow Gabriela Hybel; and Michael B. Tierney from the law firm Tierney, Correa & Zeinemann, P.C.
AMICUS BRIEFS FILED IN SUPPORT OF BREMERTON SCHOOL DISTRICT:
- AASA, The School Superintendents Association, et al.
- American Atheists
- American Civil Liberties Union & ACLU of Washington
- Bremerton Community Members
- Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty et al.
- California School Boards Association & Its Education Legal Alliance
- Church-State Scholars
- City, County & Local Public Employer Organizations
- Former Professional Football Players & Collegiate Athletes & Coaches
- Forum on the Military Chaplaincy, Former Members of the Military & Military Chaplaincies
- FFRF, CFI, AHA & Secular Coalition
- Jo Ann Magistro & Alan Brodman (East Brunswick School District)
- Lambda Legal et al.
- Members of U.S. House of Representatives
- National Education Association & American Federation of Teachers
- Psychology & Neuroscience Scholars
- Religious & Denominational Organizations & Bremerton-Area Clergy
- Robert D. Kamenshine (retired law professor)
- States of NY CA DE HI IL ME MD MA MI MN NJ NM & OR
- Washington State Charter Schools Association & California Charter Schools Association
- Washington State School Directors’ Association
- Background information on Kennedy v. Bremerton is available here
- Bremerton School District’s March 25, 2022, Brief of Respondent
- Bremerton School District’s Feb. 18, 2022, Brief to Suggest Mootness
- Photos depicting Kennedy’s public prayers with students are available here and here
All media inquiries for the Bremerton School District related to this case should be directed to Liz Hayes at Americans United at [email protected].
Americans United is a religious freedom advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, AU educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.
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