Members of Project 21 joined with leading conservatives to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to accept a case that may help protect the freedom of officials to practice their faith without fear.
“In the case of Joseph A. Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against former coach Joe Kennedy, who was suspended and later fired because he had allegedly been ‘engag[ing] in demonstrative religious activity’ while ‘on duty,’” Project 21 said in a press release Wednesday.
Coach Joe Kennedy was fired for praying after a football game. The 9th Circuit upheld the decision.
— Project 21 (@Project21News) October 21, 2021
Kennedy prayed alone on the high school’s football field for a few moments after games, the release continued:
The lower court’s ruling was “flat wrong,” according to an amici curiae (“friends of the court”) legal brief filed in support of a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court and signed by Project 21 and nearly seventy other groups and individuals. The brief stated that it is “absurd to label an act of obvious personal gratitude and humility governmental speech that is prohibited by the Constitution,” and that Americans’ personal speech cannot violate the Constitution’s Establishment Clause “simply because the public can see them.”
In October 2015, Kennedy was suspended for praying after a football game Satanists had threatened to protest.
“A student had invited The Satanic Temple of Seattle to attend the game to protest the school’s tolerance of the coach’s prayer, and to force the Bremerton School District to clarify its policy,” Breitbart News reported at the time.
According to Project 21’s news release, the brief asserted the 9th Circuit Court’s ruling threatened the First Amendment rights of public employees while at work and when visible to the public.
The group continued:
The brief also asserted that the 9th Circuit misapplied the Establishment Clause meant to stop state-established religion, arguing that it was “indisputably clear” that the coach’s prayers were personal, and the school’s opposition to them confirmed he was not acting as a public official. The ruling’s assertion that publicity made this an Establishment Clause issue was erroneous, claimed the brief, because “[t]he publicity was caused by the inappropriate ban, not by Coach Kennedy.”
The brief noted that, if it was allowed to stand, the existing ruling “will impermissibly and unconstitutionally curtail or chill the private religious speech of public officials.”
It was “maddening” for a court to decide that because a coach prayed publicly, his coaching decisions were based on wanting other people to follow and participate in prayer, Project 21 member Melanie Collette said.
“Behind these arguments is an insidious attempt by the left to shut down the free speech of Christians and further the anti-God agenda that is so prevalent in today’s public schools. It is my fervent prayer the U.S. Supreme Court addresses this injustice by picking up this case and ruling in favor of Coach Kennedy,” she added.
The group also shared a link to the full brief.