The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a former Bremerton high school football coach, who prayed with his players and other students at school, was legally allowed to do so under his First Amendment right to free speech.
The Supreme Court ruled Monday in Kennedy vs. Bremerton School District that assistant football coach Joseph Kennedy was unfairly fired after refusing to stop holding prayer sessions.
More about former coach Joseph Kennedy
The ruling could speak to the decades-old argument about prayer in public schools. It also addresses questions about balancing the religious and free expression of teachers and coaches with the right of students not to feel pressured to participate in religious practices.
Judges of the court heard the arguments in the case on April 25.
Kennedy, who served with the Marine Corps for nearly two decades, began coaching at the school in 2008, initially praying only on the 50-yard line at the end of games. But, he said, students began to join him, and over time, he began giving short, inspiring lectures with religious references.
The district heard of his prayers and talks and asked him to stop. Initially, he said he would obey and stopped leading students in prayer in the locker room and on the field. But he wanted to continue praying on the field himself, with the students free to join in if they wanted to.
School district attorneys say administrators had no problem with Kennedy praying separately from the students or having him return to the field to pray after the students left. But they couldn’t allow him to pray with the students’ civil society right after the games without the risk of it being seen as government support for religion, they said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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