Jan 14, 2022

The Bremerton School District, through its attorneys at Americans United for Separation of Church and State, issued the following statement today in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s granting review in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, a case involving a former assistant football coach at a public high school in Washington State who insisted that he had a right to pray with players and other students at the 50-yard line after games:

“No child attending public school should have to pray to play school sports. No student should ever be made to feel excluded – whether it’s in the classroom or on the football field – because they don’t share the religious beliefs of their coaches, teachers or fellow students,” said Americans United President and CEO Rachel Laser.

“The Bremerton School District followed the law and protected students’ religious freedom when it stopped its football coach from holding coercive prayers with players on the 50-yard line after high school football games,” Laser said. “Public schoolchildren and their families – like all of us – have a constitutional right to believe as they choose and be treated equally by their public schools, regardless of their beliefs. The Bremerton School District fulfilled its legal duty to respect their fundamental rights.

“We urge the Supreme Court not to fall for what a Ninth Circuit judge has called the ‘deceitful narrative’ that the coach’s attorneys have presented. This case is not about a school employee praying silently during a private religious devotion. Rather, this case is about protecting impressionable students who felt pressured by their coach to participate repeatedly in public prayer, and a public school district that did right by its students and families,” Laser added. “The lower courts have repeatedly ruled in the school district’s favor, and the Supreme Court should likewise recognize that the Bremerton School District did the right thing to protect the religious freedom, and ultimately the safety, of children.”

CASE BACKGROUND

Kennedy v. Bremerton School District began in 2015, when the Bremerton School District, a public school district in Washington State, correctly stopped its employee, assistant high school football coach Joseph Kennedy, from delivering prayers to players and other students at the 50-yard line after games. The district understood that no student-athlete should feel compelled to join a coach’s public prayers in order to be part of the team or get playing time.

When the coach refused to stop having postgame prayers on the field with students and spurned the district's attempts to accommodate his desire to pray at work in ways that would be lawful and respect students’ religious freedom, the district placed him on paid administrative leave. After his contract expired at the end of the season, he chose not to reapply. Instead, Kennedy and his attorneys sued, claiming that he has a right to pray on the 50-yard line immediately after the games with students.

The lower courts have repeatedly ruled in favor of the school district, and the U.S. Supreme Court once before declined to review the case at the preliminary-injunction stage. 

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 and Steven Gey Constitutional Litigation Fellow Alex Bodaken, and Michael B. Tierney from the law firm Tierney, Correa & Zeinemann, P.C.

CASE DOCUMENTS

All media inquiries for the Bremerton School District related to this case should be directed to Liz Hayes at Americans United, at media@au.org.

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. Learn more at www.au.org.