WASHINGTON (ChurchMilitant.com) - The courtroom battle continues for a former high school football coach fired for praying silently on the gridiron after games.
The U.S. Supreme Court announced Friday that justices will begin to hear oral arguments in the case of Joe Kennedy, the former Washington High School football coach who was fired in 2015 over his solitary prayers.
Kennedy, a retired Marine Corps gunnery sergeant, was suspended and then fired after he refused school district orders to stop praying publicly following games.
Kelly Shackelford, the president and CEO of First Liberty, is representing Kennedy through Kirkland & Ellis, LLP. She noted, "No teacher or coach should lose their job for simply expressing their faith while in public. By taking this important case, the Supreme Court can protect the right of every American to engage in private religious expression, including praying in public, without fear of punishment."
Earlier this month, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Kennedy was lawfully fired by the Bremerton School District when he defied the district's anti-prayer orders. The Supreme Court initially declined (in 2019) to hear his case. But four conservative justices — Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch — indicated his case could be heard in the future.
Justice Alito wrote an encouraging message for Kennedy as part of the 2019 rejection, saying that "denial of certiorari does not signify that the court necessarily agrees with the decision."
Alito explained that "important unresolved factual questions would make it very difficult, if not impossible, at this stage to decide the free-speech question that the petition asks us to review."
He also criticized the 9th Circuit's ruling, saying that court's "understanding of the free speech rights of public school teachers is troubling and may justify review in the future."
Speaking to Fox News last year, Kennedy explained the fuel behind his continued fight. Kennedy said that "the First Amendment really means a lot to me." He added, "It is really terrible today in America that somebody can be fired just for expressing their faith. So I am just fighting so that no one else ever has to go through this and doesn't [sic] have to choose between their job and their faith."
Oral arguments in the Kennedy case should be heard this spring, with a decision expected by late June. Various conservative leaders, including former vice president Mike Pence, have filed briefs in support of Kennedy's case.
The Bremerton School District is represented by attorneys from Americans United for Separation of Church and State. That organization released a statement commenting on the SCOTUS announcement, with president and CEO Rachel Laser saying, "No child attending public school should have to pray to play school sports."
She alleged that prayer can make some children feel excluded and left out, noting, "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."