WASHINGTON, D.C., June 27, 2022— The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention applauds the Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision to protect the “Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment” in the case, Kennedy vs. Bremerton School District.
This decision is a religious expression victory for teachers and coaches to privately express their deeply-held beliefs while working for schools.
Brent Leatherwood, ERLC’s acting president, said the Supreme Court’s decision was “rightly determined.”
“As any Christian knows, our faith is deeply personal and rightly shapes every aspect of our lives. We live out our faith in any number of ways, both privately and publicly. Today’s case centered on the latter and the Supreme Court rightly determined that an individual employed by a school does not forfeit his or her constitutional right to free expression simply by entering ‘the schoolhouse gate’ or, as it were in this case, the field of play.
“Moreover, today’s decision reaffirms another aspect of constitutional law: our First Amendment rights travel together. We, and many others, have long held that religious liberty is our nation’s first freedom and that it bolsters and strengthens other foundational rights. The Court today strengthened this perspective by writing that the clauses of free expression, establishment and free speech are all complementary. If it were not already clear enough, this Court views religious liberty as a bedrock right in our free republic.”
The ERLC was involved with briefs at the petition for certiorari stage and before the Supreme Court on the merits, in support of a Washington state high school football coach who was suspended for kneeling and praying on the field after games. The brief urged the high court to accept the case and reverse the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision that Joseph Kennedy’s act of praying – ultimately joined by some players — constituted a government establishment of religion.
In 2018, ERLC joined eight other groups in a brief that called for Supreme Court review and repudiation of the Ninth Circuit in the case, but the justices declined to grant the request at the time. The case returned to federal court and has successfully worked its way back through the judicial system.