Public Schools

Supreme Court Should Follow Decades Of Precedent And Protect Students’ Religious Freedom

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Americans United for Separation of Church and State today argued before the U.S Supreme Court in defense of students’ religious freedom and our country’s foundational principle of church-state separation. In the case Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, AU Vice President and Legal Director Richard B. Katskee argued on behalf of the public school district in Washington State that correctly stopped assistant football coach Joseph Kennedy from holding coercive public prayers with students on the 50-yard line after high school football games.

“The Bremerton School District did the right thing to protect students’ religious freedom,” Katskee said. “I hope the Court sees through the false narrative that the coach’s attorneys have presented and recognizes the truth that the lower courts did: Bremerton students felt coerced by their football coach’s orchestrated public prayers on the 50-yard line immediately after football games. No student should feel pressured to pray to play. The law is clear that teachers and coaches cannot lead public-school students in prayer.”

“If the Supreme Court gets this case wrong, we could witness the greatest loss of religious freedom in generations,” said Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United. “We’re on very dangerous ground if the Court is considering overturning decades of established law that prevents government employees from pressuring students to pray in public schools. 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.”

Katskee was accompanied in the courtroom by AU Litigation Counsel Bradley Girard. The school district’s legal team also includes 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.

Outside the Supreme Court, Laser hosted a press conference with U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), who led an amicus brief by Members of Congress in support of Bremerton; and a broad coalition of faith leaders, including clergy from Bremerton, Wash., all of whom support church-state separation.

Other speakers included:

  • Ouida Brown, General Counsel for the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church
  • The Rev. Douglas Avilesbernal, Executive Minister of the Evergreen Association of American Baptist Churches, based in Washington State
  • The Rev. Meghan Dowling, Pastor at Bremerton United Methodist Church
  • Student Rabbi Emily Katcher at Beth Hatikvah congregation in Bremerton
  • The Rev. Gregory Reffner, Pastor at Brownsville United Methodist Church, Bremerton
  • The Rev. Kathleen Kingslight, Priest at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Bremerton

A recording of the press conference is available on AU’s social media platforms, including Twitter and Facebook. Photos of the event also are available by request. Headshots are available of Katskee and Laser.

Laser, Katskee and members of the clergy are available for interviews by contacting Liz Hayes at [email protected].

More information about Kennedy v. Bremerton School District is available here.

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.

Press Contact

Liz Hayes
Associate Vice President of Communications
[email protected]

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