WASHINGTON––U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR) joined Senator James Lankford (R-OK) and 11 other senators in submitting an amicus brief in support of Coach Joe Kennedy in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District. The brief asks the U.S. Supreme Court to review and subsequently reverse the Ninth Circuit’s decision that allowed Coach Kennedy to be fired for silently kneeling and praying after school football games. Representative Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) co-led the brief, with 13 of her colleagues in the House of Representatives also signing on.
“This case is about far more than a coach kneeling on a football field to pray. The Ninth Circuit’s ruling imperils the most basic forms of individual religious expression by each of the public school teachers and coaches within its jurisdiction. The effect is alarming,” the senators wrote.
Senators Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Tim Scott (R-SC), Steve Daines (R-MT), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Mike Lee (R-UT), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Roy Blunt (R-MO) and John Thune (R-SD) joined Boozman and Lankford on the brief.
Kennedy worked at Bremerton High School in Washington as head coach of its junior varsity football team and an assistant coach for the varsity team. After each game, he waited until the players cleared the field, then took a knee and silently prayed. Bremerton High School sent Kennedy a letter demanding he stop praying after games. Coach Kennedy’s contract with Bremerton School District was not renewed, resulting in his termination.
Kennedy filed a lawsuit against Bremerton School District, which a federal district court dismissed. On appeal, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit argued Kennedy’s prayers were not protected by the Constitution because he was praying as a public employee rather than in his private, personal capacity. In 2019, Coach Kennedy asked the Supreme Court to review the case. The Court denied review of the case, with a concurring statement by four Justices requesting more information. As such, the case went back to the lower courts. In March 2021, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit upheld the District Court’s decision that Kennedy’s silent, public prayers after football games violate the Establishment Clause, and the circuit court denied an appeal for review.