The Supreme Court on Monday will hear the case of Joe Kennedy, a Washington state high school football coach who was placed on leave six years ago for praying after games, The Associated Press reported.
Kennedy, a former coach at Bremerton High School in Bremerton, Washington told The New York Times he made a promise to God when he became a coach.
“I will give you the glory after every game, win or lose,” he said, adding that the setting mattered: “It just made sense to do it on the field of battle.”
Kennedy would kneel at midfield after games and pray, and students and observers would sometimes join him.
He’s sued the Bremerton School District alleging they violated his First Amendment rights by telling him he couldn’t pray at midfield, The Times reported.
The AP reported that lawyers for the school district argued there was no issue if Kennedy prayed alone and separately from students or if he came back after students left to pray on the field, but that praying immediately following the game could appear to be a government endorsement of religion.
In a Supreme Court brief, the school district said that some residents who didn’t approve of praying on the field have kept quiet because of the attention the issue has gotten.
Rachel Laser, the president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which represents the school board told The Times that the concern is that when the coach goes to the 50-yard line to pray, there’s pressure on kids to join.
The AP reported that while Kennedy has said he never cared if students joined, one student anonymously said they participated despite it not being in his beliefs because he was worried he’d lose playing time.
Kennedy has repeatedly lost in court, and the Supreme Court has a history of rejecting prayer in public schools, The Times reported.
For instance, the court ruled in 2000 that student-led prayers at high school football games also violated the first amendment because organized prayers led by students at high school football games have the “improper” impact of forcing those who are there to participate in religious worship.
However, as The Times and AP noted, some sitting conservative justices have signaled some concern over how the case was decided.
Laser told The AP that if the Supreme Court rules in favor of Kennedy, “teachers and coaches could pressure students to pray in every public school classroom across the country.”