Joseph Kennedy, a public high school football coach from Washington state who was suspended seven years ago for praying with players after games, is to be reinstated as coach after a U.S. Supreme Court victory on the matter over the summer, ABC News reported, citing court documents.
“Kennedy is to be reinstated to his previous position as assistant coach of the Bremerton High School football team on or before March 15, 2023,” according to a joint stipulation filed in Washington state district court Tuesday by attorneys representing Kennedy and lawyers for the Bremerton School District, the network said.
For years, Kennedy had been praying at the 50-yard line after games, until he was told to stop in 2015 by the Bremerton School District. When he refused, the district suspended and then fired him, he says.
In 2019, the Supreme Court declined to take up Kennedy’s case, as reported by the Associated Press. However, at that time, there were only four conservative justices on the court. When a new conservative majority took power, Kennedy’s lawyers announced that his case would finally be heard in January. The high court heard arguments in late April and seemed to signal that they would side with Kennedy in the case.
In June, the high court granted Kennedy victory, ruling 6-3 in his favor, with all conservative justices voting for him and all liberal justices voted against.
“The Constitution and the best of our traditions counsel mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and suppression, for religious and nonreligious views alike,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the majority, the outlet noted.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a dissenting opinion that the court’s decision in favor of Kennedy “sets us further down a perilous path in forcing states to entangle themselves with religion,” the AP said, adding that she was joined in her dissent by Justice Stephen Breyer and Justice Elena Kagan.
“This is a right for everybody. It doesn’t matter if you’re this religion or that religion or have no faith whatsoever,” Kennedy told ABC News during an interview, disagreeing with Sotomayor’s dissent. “Everybody has the same rights in America.”
Kennedy was often joined by players in prayer without them being prompted or asked, but the school district asked him to stop, nonetheless. as it considered him still “on duty” as a coach after the game.
“Just hours before what would be my last game as coach, the school district gave me an ultimatum: If I prayed after that night’s game, they would suspend me,” Kennedy wrote last year in a Fox News op-ed. “As a proudly retired U.S. Marine, something inside me stirred. I would have given my life defending the religious freedom of any American, and yet that very right was denied to me. That just seemed wrong and unjust.”
He added, “I did pray on that chilly October night, leading to my suspension and termination. My only recourse at that point was to seek legal action to vindicate my rights of free speech and free exercise of my religious beliefs.”
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