After dropping his process for praying at the subject, ex-high college soccer trainer Joe Kennedy brings case to Splendid Courtroom

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Washington — It was once after staring at the sports activities movie “Dealing with the Giants” that Joseph Kennedy, then a brand new trainer for the Bremerton Top Faculty soccer crew in Washington state, was once impressed to hope.

And so, after training his first recreation for the Bremerton Knights in August 2008, Kennedy walked to the 50-yard-line, “at the battlefield,” the retired U.S. Marine says, and took a knee to supply a prayer of gratitude. 

It all started with the trainer, by myself, in brief thanking God after the overall whistle for retaining the gamers protected, for truthful play and for spirited pageant. However quickly sufficient, the choice of gamers accumulating along Kennedy after video games grew to incorporate a majority of the crew, although participation various. No less than one dad or mum stated his son felt “forced to take part” out of worry he would lose out on enjoying time.

And shortly sufficient, the prayers by means of Kennedy, himself a graduate of Bremerton Top Faculty, advanced into motivational speeches with devout references.

Praying Football Coach
Joe Kennedy, a former assistant soccer trainer at Bremerton Top Faculty in Bremerton, Washington, poses for a photograph March 9, 2022, on the college’s soccer subject. 

Ted S. Warren / AP


For seven years, Kennedy endured his follow of praying at the subject without a problems. However in September 2015, the Bremerton Faculty District realized what he was once doing when an opposing crew’s trainer informed Bremerton Top Faculty’s fundamental that Kennedy requested his gamers to enroll in him for the post-game prayer, pronouncing he “idea it was once beautiful cool” the district would permit such task, in step with court docket data.

That commentary by means of the opposing trainer served because the catalyst for a yearslong fight between Kennedy and the varsity district, the venue for which shifted from the gridiron to the courts when the trainer misplaced his process after defying directives to finish his follow of praying at the subject.

Kennedy argued he was once attractive in constitutionally safe devout expression, and on Monday, the US Splendid Courtroom will weigh his bid to get his training process again and be allowed to hope at midfield after video games.

“It kind of feels so easy to me: It is a man taking a knee by means of himself at the 50-yard-line, which to me does not appear find it irresistible wishes a rocket scientist or a Splendid Courtroom justice to determine,” he informed CBS Information. “I did not wish to motive any waves, and the item I sought after to do was once trainer soccer and thank God after the sport.”

However for defenders of the varsity district, Kennedy was once appearing as an agent of the state who, as a public college worker, violated the devout freedom of scholars who felt power to pray-to-play.

“When a trainer makes use of the facility of his process to be in a spot and feature get admission to to scholars at a time when they are anticipated to encircle him and are available to him, that is an abuse of that energy and a contravention of the Charter,” Rachel Laser, president and CEO of American citizens United for Separation of Church and State, informed CBS Information’ Jan Crawford. “Spiritual freedom isn’t the correct to impose your faith on others. All of us wish to have it, in order that’s why the loose workout and established order clause paintings in combination to offer protection to devout freedom for all people.”

“Giving up isn’t one thing that is in my blood”

After the Bremerton Faculty District realized of Kennedy’s post-game follow of praying at midfield in September 2015, it introduced an investigation into whether or not he was once complying with the varsity board’s coverage on religious-related actions and practices. 

Whilst acknowledging that Kennedy had “no longer actively inspired, or required, participation” in both a pre-game prayer within the locker room or his “inspirational communicate at midfield” after video games,” the district stated in a letter dated September 17, 2015, that the actions most probably would violate the First Modification’s Status quo Clause and disclose the district to “vital possibility of legal responsibility.”

“Bremerton Top Faculty legally dangers endorsing or favoring one set of spiritual perspectives over others and that’s the reason no longer what the Charter guarantees,” Laser stated. “Spiritual freedom, the ones 16 phrases of our First Modification of our Charter are a defend that protects devout freedom for all people, no longer simply devout freedom for a few of us.”

The district informed Kennedy that his talks with scholars should stay totally secular, and long term devout task he engages in, together with prayer, should no longer intervene together with his process tasks, should be break free any pupil task and would possibly not have participation from the scholars. 

In compliance with the district’s request, Kennedy quickly stopped praying at the subject after video games. However one month later, in mid-October 2015, he knowledgeable the district via an legal professional that he would resume pronouncing a post-game prayer on the 50-yard-line after soliciting for a spiritual lodging beneath Name VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination at the foundation of faith.

“No cheap observer may conclude {that a} soccer trainer who waits till the sport is over and the gamers have left the sector after which walks to mid-field to mention a brief, non-public, private prayer is talking on behalf of the state,” his legal professional stated in a letter to the Bremerton Faculty District. “Relatively the other, Trainer Kennedy is engaged in non-public devout expression upon which the state would possibly not infringe.”

And so, after the overall whistle at Bremerton’s homecoming recreation on October 16, 2015, Kennedy shook fingers with the opposing crew, waited till gamers have been making a song their struggle track, after which knelt on the 50-yard-line, bowed his head, and, joined by means of gamers from each groups, contributors of the media and the general public, prayed.

He did so once more for the following two video games, and then the district positioned Kennedy on paid administrative go away from his place as an assistant trainer for violating its directives. Throughout a next analysis of Kennedy’s efficiency, Bremerton’s athletic director beneficial he no longer be rehired for the following season, bringing up a failure to observe district coverage and failure to oversee student-athletes after video games. 

Kennedy selected to not reapply for his training place at Bremerton Top Faculty, and, in August 2016, filed swimsuit towards the Bremerton Faculty District in federal district court docket in Tacoma, Washington, arguing it violated his constitutional rights to loose speech and loose workout.

1-coach-kennedy-bremerton-high-footbal-field-kneeling-sunset.jpg
Former Bermerton Top Faculty soccer trainer Joseph Kennedy (First Liberty Institute)

U.S. District Pass judgement on Ronald Leighton dominated towards Kennedy, discovering that “whilst public colleges shouldn’t have unfettered discretion to limit an worker’s devout speech, they do be capable to save you a trainer from praying on the heart of the soccer subject in an instant after video games.” 

Kennedy appealed to the ninth U.S. Circuit Courtroom of Appeals, which affirmed the district court docket’s ruling. He then became to the Splendid Courtroom, and in 2019, the excessive court docket declined to listen to his case.

In a observation from Justice Samuel Alito and joined by means of Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, the 4 justices stated it was once untimely for the Splendid Courtroom to listen to Kennedy’s case at the moment, however warned the ninth Circuit’s “working out of the loose speech rights of public college academics is troubling and would possibly justify assessment one day.”

“What’s possibly maximum troubling concerning the ninth Circuit’s opinion is language that may be understood to imply {that a} trainer’s responsibility to function a excellent position fashion calls for the trainer to chorus from any manifestation of spiritual religion — even if the trainer is it appears that evidently no longer on responsibility,” Alito wrote.

After further complaints, Kennedy once more suffered losses within the decrease courts. A 3-judge panel of judges at the ninth Circuit dominated in March 2021 that the varsity district’s efforts to forestall Kennedy from praying didn’t violate his constitutional rights, and his postgame speech at the subject was once speech as a central authority worker.

“At factor on this case isn’t, as Kennedy makes an attempt to gloss it, a non-public and personal workout of religion,” Pass judgement on Milan Smith Jr. wrote for the unanimous panel. “At factor was once — in each sense of the phrase — an indication, and, as a result of Kennedy demanded that it happen in an instant after the overall whistle, it was once an indication essentially directed at scholars and the attending public.”

The whole ninth Circuit declined to re-hear the case, and Kennedy once more appealed the verdict to the Splendid Courtroom in September. The excessive court docket agreed in January to absorb the dispute.

“I used to be a Marine for twenty years. Supporting and protecting the Charter approach so much to me. Giving up isn’t one thing that is in my blood, it is not in my nature,” Kennedy stated of his long criminal struggle to get his process again. ” I will be able to have a look at myself within the reflect, have a look at my crew over time, and grasp my head up excessive and glance them within the eyes and say hiya, I fought the great struggle, I did not surrender.”

Kennedy’s court docket fight with the varsity district will come earlier than a Splendid Courtroom that has shifted additional rightward since 2019, when the justices first spurned his request to listen to his case. Now with a 6-3 conservative majority, the excessive court docket has in fresh phrases been extra sympathetic to spiritual rights.

“The state does no longer personal each ounce of your loose expression. They are able to’t censor you from the whole lot you do,” Jeremy Dys, particular recommend for First Liberty, which is representing Kennedy, informed CBS Information. “The Status quo Clause does no longer imply you should censor and stamp out any devout demonstration.”


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“Brave to a couple and offensive to others”

In filings with the Splendid Courtroom, legal professionals for the district argue it acted inside its authority to keep an eye on Kennedy’s “very public speech” and declare he “tells a breathless story of authoritarian executive forbidding non-public devout expression, insisting that until the court docket applies his most popular criminal take a look at, devout follow shall be quashed around the nation.”

Beneath the Splendid Courtroom’s jurisprudence, the varsity district’s hobby in shielding scholars from devout coercion and combating workers from “commandeering executive occasions” outweighs Kennedy’s hobby in praying with scholars, the district argued.

Laser famous that Kennedy was once no longer precluded from praying on his personal, even though he was once thought to be “on responsibility.” Nevertheless it was once where and time at which he selected to have interaction within the follow that left scholars feeling burdened to enroll in.

“If this trainer have been actually doing what he says he was once doing, which is praying in a personal and solitary approach, we would not be right here, as a result of that is fantastic. You should not have to go away that at the back of whilst you turn out to be a public reputable,” she stated. “However devout freedom isn’t the correct to make use of the facility of the state to choose one set of spiritual ideals over others, to impose one set of spiritual ideals on public college scholars.”

The dispute between Kennedy and the Bremerton Faculty District has attracted a slew of friend-of-the-court briefs, together with from present and previous Nationwide Soccer League gamers, and previous collegiate athletes and coaches.

In a single transient filed in beef up of Kennedy on behalf of Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, Chicago Bears quarterback Nick Foles and previous NFL quarterback Drew Stanton, amongst others, the present and previous gamers invoked Colin Kaepernick — although to start with no longer by means of identify — kneeling all the way through the nationwide anthem to protest racial injustice.

“That follow, like Kennedy’s prayers, is arguable — brave to a couple and offensive to others,” they argued. “But when Joe Kennedy had taken a knee to protest racial injustice, the district nearly definitely wouldn’t have argued that his speech was once one way or the other the state’s. Somewhat, there would were no query that it was once safe non-public speech.”

Because the gamers “can attest from their revel in in any respect ranges of sports activities— highschool, school, and professional —  audiences perceive symbolic acts of speech at the subject to replicate the perspectives of the person athletes and coaches who have interaction in them, whether or not they’re Colin Kaepernick, Tim Tebow, Shaquille O’Neal, or Joe Kennedy. The research does no longer exchange since the speech is devout slightly than political,” they informed the Splendid Courtroom.

Dys, too, stated that the First Modification protects the rights of each Kaepernick and Kennedy to take a knee, whether or not in an expression of loose speech or loose workout.

“One is speech and one is loose workout, however they are inside a couple of phrases of one another,” he stated. “They’re each safe by means of the First Modification, and they are allowed to have that proper.”

However a bunch of former skilled soccer gamers and collegiate athletes in beef up of the varsity district warned the connection between a trainer and athlete in highschool athletics is exclusive, as it’s “extremely prone to being coercive,” and will have to be thought to be by means of the Splendid Courtroom because it weighs the case.

“The file right here demonstrates that Mr. Kennedy’s movements had the propensity to, and did, lead gamers to really feel forced to take part in Mr. Kennedy’s expressions of religion even though they might slightly no longer have completed so,” the previous athletes, together with former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe and previous NFL operating again Obafemi Ayanbadejo.

A call from the Splendid Courtroom is anticipated by means of the top of June.

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