Current and former NFL players Kirk Cousins, Joe Delamiel-Leure, Nick Foles, Phil Olsen, Christian Ponder, Drew Stanton, Harry Swayne, and Jack Youngblood submitted an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of a high school coach in Washington state who was fired after offering a 30-second personal prayer midfield after games. (Hat tip: Alliance Defending Freedom)
The Bremerton School District suspended then declined to rehire Joseph Kennedy after he continued to pray on the field after games when told to stop. The district claimed Kennedy was acting in his capacity as a government employee, and his actions violated the district’s policy against school staff indirectly encouraging or discouraging students from engaging in religious activity. His prayers amounted to “government speech,” which violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.
Kennedy appealed his case to the high court after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the lower court’s ruling that the school district would have violated the Establishment Clause had it allowed him to continue praying on the field potentially surrounded by players.
The school district has asked the Supreme Court to dismiss the case, because Kennedy no longer lives in the state and can’t benefit from a favorable ruling. From the players’ brief:
American citizens do not give up the right to personal prayer when they accept employment with a public employer. As our brief explains, the First Amendment protects prayer because it is private speech, not government speech. Ignoring the Supreme Court’s command that “schools do not endorse everything they fail to censor,” the 9th Circuit wrongly reasoned that Coach Kennedy’s personal, on-field prayers were not his own, but the government’s—and worse, that even if the prayers were his own, the risk that someone might think they were the government’s prayers meant he had to be censored. But the coach’s prayers were not a part of his official job responsibilities, and if he had instead been saying a silent prayer in the school cafeteria before lunch, no one would have thought of attributing it to the school district. The fact that he prayed after a game doesn’t change the fact that his speech is just as protected by the First Amendment, and we hope the Supreme Court will reverse the 9th Circuit and affirm just that.
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