Explainer  Religious Liberty  Supreme Court

Explainer: What you should know about religious liberty and the Coach Kennedy case

religious liberty

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case titled Joseph A. Kennedy, v. Bremerton School District. Here’s what you need to know about this case:

What is this case about?

This is a case about the rights of teachers and coaches to privately express their religious belief while working for schools. Coach Kennedy, a high school football coach in Bremerton, Washington, had a tradition of kneeling and quietly praying at the 50-yard line after football games. He was suspended by Bremerton High School, and later fired because of his action. He filed a lawsuit against the school district, arguing that the school’s actions violated the Constitution. 

As our brief states, “Coach Kennedy . . . acted after a game, without directing his speech or conduct toward any particular audience, without anyone in compulsory attendance, without his inviting anyone, and on an outdoor field open to the entire public (not just students and other school employees).” It goes on to state, “​​This was a private gathering of like-minded individuals, and that gathering was itself shielded by the First Amendment protections of religion, speech, and assembly.”

Why does this matter for Southern Baptists?

As Christians, our faith shapes the totality of how we live and the structure of our lives, and the government must allow people of faith to live out their convictions according to their religious beliefs. A teacher, administrator, student, or coach does not shed their religious beliefs simply because they enter the schoolhouse door, or as in this case, the field of play. Kennedy was living out his faith in public, and he should have the ability to do so without being punished. 

Across the denomination, Southern Baptists can be found working in the public education sector. As Christians, Scripture calls us to do “all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17). Believers ought to be able to do this in the public square without fear of repercussions.

How has the ERLC been involved?

The ERLC was involved with briefs at the petition for certiorari stage and before the Supreme Court on the merits. The brief the ERLC joined argued that, 

. . . the school should have allowed the exercise of the constitutional freedoms to speak, pray, and assemble. It cannot convert its improper halting of such practices into a legal virtue by resort to the Establishment Clause, as that clause certainly did not proscribe the unassisted, privately initiated exercise of religion by Coach Kennedy.

The Establishment Clause does not require public schools to be policed as religion-free zones, and a reasonable, objective person understands that teachers can act in private capacities, even while on school grounds and even during school hours. When teachers do so, their freedoms are not to be curtailed, and they are not to be punished.

What’s next for this case?

After the Supreme Court hears oral arguments today, it will release its opinion later this term, likely in May or June. The ERLC will continue to follow and cover future developments on this case. And, as we have been assigned by Southern Baptist, we will always protect religious liberty before Congress, the courts, and in the public square. 

religious liberty

Related Content

Key resolutions from the 2024 SBC Annual Meeting

On June 11-12, messengers to the 2024 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in Indianapolis,...

Read More

Explainer: 5 harmful federal regulations the ERLC is pushing back against

Part two

Part 1Part 3 Over the past month, the Biden administration has finalized numerous problematic...

Read More

What you should know about abortion-related state ballot initiatives

In the wake of the landmark Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision overturning...

Read More

Explainer: What Christians Should Know About United States v. Rahimi

On Nov. 7, 2023, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the...

Read More
Supreme Court

Explainer: What Christians Should Know About FDA v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on access to an abortion...

Read More
Safeguarding Charity Act

Explainer: Rubio and Steube to introduce the Safeguarding Charity Act

The recently proposed Safeguarding Charity Act is a response to numerous religious liberty challenges...

Read More