Joe Kennedy, a former public school football coach in Bremerton, Wash., adamantly insisted that he had a right to pray with players and other students after games. Officials in the school district were just as adamant that he had no such right.
For now, at least, the school district has come out on top.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 22 announced that it will not hear an appeal of Kennedy's lawsuit against the school district. The high court's inaction means that a lower court ruling against Kennedy stands.
The case goes back to 2015, when Kennedy was placed on administrative leave after he refused to stop praying with students at the 50-yard line after games.
Initially, Kennedy decided not reapply to coach the team. But he changed his mind after Religious Right groups began publicizing his case. Backed by a Texas-based Religious Right legal organization called First Liberty, Kennedy filed a lawsuit and demanded not only the right to pray with students, but also that the district be compelled to rehire him as a coach.
A federal court in September 2016 ruled against Kennedy, and about a year later the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision.
Americans United has been following the case, Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, from the beginning. AU filed a legal brief on behalf of the school district (joined by nearly a dozen religious- and civil-rights organizations) when the legal dispute reached the appeals court, and Andrew Nellis, then an AU legal fellow, argued part of the case.
When the appeals court ruled against Kennedy, Americans United lauded the decision as an important vindication of parental rights.
"Teachers and coaches don't get to pressure students to pray," said Richard B. Katskee, Americans United's legal director. "Students and families have the right to decide whether and how to practice their faith. Public schools should be welcoming places for all students and families, and no student should feel like an outsider at his or her school."
Added Katskee, "The court agreed that the Bremerton School District could protect the religious freedom of its students. The school district was on the right side of history and religious freedom, and Americans United was proud to support its efforts."
The appeals court opinion was authored by Judge Milan D. Smith Jr., who noted that high-school football is an important ritual in many American communities.
"On Friday nights, many cities and towns across America temporarily...