In the court’s opinion, Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote, “[A] government entity sought to punish an individual for engaging in a brief, quiet, personal religious observance doubly protected by the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment. And the only meaningful justification the government offered for its reprisal rested on a mistaken view that it had a duty to ferret out and suppress religious observances even as it allows comparable secular speech.
“The Constitution neither mandates nor tolerates that kind of discrimination.”
Joining Gorsuch in the majority were Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a dissenting opinion that was endorsed by Associate Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan.
The Ninth Circuit Court in San Francisco twice ruled against Kennedy, who was ultimately joined by some players and others in the on-field prayers. In a 2021 opinion, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court said the school district would have violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause had it permitted Kennedy to continue to engage in his on-field, religious exercise after games.
Kennedy’s post-game practice that led to the Supreme Court began in 2008. An assistant coach with the Bremerton High School varsity team, he began walking to the 50-yard line after each game, kneeling and briefly praying, thanking God for the players. Players eventually began joining him, and Kennedy, who was also head coach of the junior varsity team, continued to pray at midfield following games for the next seven years. He also reportedly gave motivational speeches to players on both teams who gathered around him.
“It was my covenant between me and God that after every game, win or lose, I’m going to do it right there on the field of battle,” Kennedy told ABC News earlier this year regarding his practice of post-game prayers.
“This is a right for everybody. It doesn’t matter if you’re this religion or that religion or have no faith whatsoever,” he said, according to ABC News. “Everybody has the same rights in America.”
During the 2015 season, the school district superintendent sent a letter to Kennedy telling him to refrain from the post-game prayers and from religious expression in his motivational talks to players. The superintendent said Kennedy’s practices likely violated the Establishment Clause. After abiding by the mandate for a few weeks, Kennedy returned to his former practice of praying at midfield and was joined by others.
The school district placed Kennedy on administrative leave as a result. The athletic director recommended the school not rehire him in 2016, and Kennedy declined to apply for a coaching position when a new varsity head coach was hired for the next season.
This article originally appeared at BaptistPress.com.