by Jorge Gomez • 5 min read
The U.S. Supreme Court announced it will hear Coach Joe Kennedy’s case.
The outcome of this case could bring victory for Coach Kennedy and it could also change how courts consider all religious freedom cases in the future. First Liberty has fought for Coach Kennedy through a six-year legal battle after the Bremerton School District in Washington fired him for silently praying on the football field.
The Court will have an opportunity to protect the right of every American to live out their faith, including praying in public, without the fear of punishment. The outcome could restore the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and strike a serious blow against a bad legal precedent that’s harmed religious freedom for more than 30 years.
Watch the video below. In it, First Liberty General Counsel Mike Berry discusses the preparation for the upcoming showdown at the Supreme Court:
Why a Victory for Coach Kennedy Could be a Game-Changer
Just as in football, legal victories of great significance are rarely won in a single play. It takes patience, hard work and a great game plan.
As First Liberty prepares for oral argument over the coming months, it’s important to recap our game plan up to this point, including the many reasons we’re hopeful for a win in Coach Kennedy’s case.
Recall that in 2019, the Supreme Court declined to hear Coach Kennedy’s case. But four justices—Justice Alito, joined by Justices Thomas, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh—attached a statement, something the Court rarely does. They wrote:
“The Ninth Circuit’s understanding of the free speech rights of public school teachers is troubling and may justify review in the future.”
What was so “troubling” about the Ninth Circuit’s understanding? It essentially argued that any time a public school teacher is on duty and can be seen, everything they do, including a brief silent personal prayer, is government speech.
After returning to the District Court to clarify some questions in the record we returned to Ninth Circuit. As expected, the Ninth Circuit ruled against us. But the reasoning of the appellate court gave us an even stronger position when our legal team prepared its second request to the Supreme Court.
The Ninth Circuit judge who wrote that most recent opinion rebuked Coach Kennedy for the way he prayed on the field, that he was doing it incorrectly according to the judge’s beliefs. We believe the court’s inappropriate, unconstitutional criticism is something the Supreme Court will likely want to address.
Additionally, as part of the Ninth Circuit’s most recent ruling, several judges wrote excellent dissenting opinions. These opinions beautifully lay out the facts of Coach Kennedy’s case and explain why the law is on his side. And when we argue before the nine justices of the nation’s highest court, these dissents will be very favorable to have as part of our defense.
Finally, the four Supreme Court justices who issued the rare statement also suggested they’d be open to reviewing Employment Division v. Smith. That decision from the early 1990s made it very difficult to win a case under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Lawyers were forced to bring nearly every religious freedom challenge as a “Free Speech” argument.
Indeed, that’s how First Liberty argued for Coach Kennedy the first time around. But now we’ll be asking the Court also to consider the “free exercise” of his faith guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. If the justices follow through, it could establish a more favorable path for arguing religious freedom cases from here forward. That would help ensure millions of Americans no longer have to choose between their jobs and their religious beliefs.
Your Opportunity to Impact the Future of Our Nation
As a faithful First Liberty supporter, we want to thank you for helping us reach this important milestone. Your ongoing prayers and financial support are the reasons we can keep fighting on behalf of courageous Americans like Coach Kennedy.
But our work is not finished yet. To claim a victory for Coach Kennedy, we’ll need your continued support. The next several months will be incredibly busy. There’s a great deal of preparation ahead, and your generous gifts will make a tremendous difference in this final phase.
Will you support First Liberty with a timely donation today? Your gift can help ensure our legal team and our arguments are razor-sharp when we go before the justices.