The Bremerton School District, through its attorneys at Americans United for Separation of Church and State, today urged the U.S. Supreme Court to protect the religious freedom of public school students by affirming that the school district followed the law and did the right thing when it stopped former assistant football coach Joseph Kennedy from pressuring students to join his public prayers at the 50-yard line at football games.
In its brief filed today in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, the district explains that Kennedy’s attorneys, in the words of one 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge, are presenting a “deceitful narrative” when they claim that he just wants to pray quietly by himself. The brief explains that the coach’s prayer practice repeatedly involved public prayers with students; that students felt pressured to join their coach’s prayers; and that the coach and his attorneys spurned the district’s many attempts to accommodate his desire to pray at work, instead demanding that he be able to pray at the center of the field, out loud and with students. The district did the right thing to stop the coach’s public prayer practice because it harmed students’ religious freedom as well as the district’s ability to make sure students and the community were safe at games.
“Church-state separation means that no one should ever have to choose between their religious freedom and being part of the team,” said Americans United President and CEO Rachel Laser. “No student should ever be pressured to pray to play. The facts of the case, the laws of our country, and religious and nonreligious Americans alike are on the side of protecting students’ religious freedom. Our country is on perilous ground if the Supreme Court considers overturning decades of established law that prevents government employees from pressuring students to pray in public schools. That’s what makes this case so critical – a loss would dangerously erode a core principle of our democracy.”
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.
- 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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