Coach Who Won Supreme Court Case Over Prayers on the Field Resigns


A high school football coach in Washington State who won a Supreme Court case last year over whether he could pray on the field after his public school team’s games and rejoined the coaching staff this season said on Wednesday that he had resigned.

The coach, Joseph Kennedy, who had successfully argued to the Supreme Court last year that he had a constitutional right to pray at the 50-yard line after his team’s games, said on his website that he had resigned after just one game back because he needed to take care of “an ailing family member out of state” and because he believes he can “best continue to advocate for constitutional freedom and religious liberty by working from outside the school system.”

“I will continue to work to help people understand and embrace the historic ruling at the heart of our case,” Mr. Kennedy said.

Mr. Kennedy had served as an assistant coach at Bremerton High School, a public high school in Bremerton, Wash., across Puget Sound from Seattle, where for eight years ending in 2015, he routinely offered prayers after games, with students often joining him.

But in 2015, the school board instructed Mr. Kennedy not to pray if it interfered with his duties or involved students. A school official recommended that the coach’s contract not be renewed for the 2016 season, and Mr. Kennedy did not reapply for the position.

A year after his Supreme Court victory, he got his coaching job back with the Bremerton Knights and coached one game last Friday. After the game, which his team had won, 27-12, Mr. Kennedy walked to the 50-yard line to pray, but no players joined him, The Seattle Times reported.

The ruling in his case, Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, which was handed down in June 2022, further expanded the place of religion in public life and underscored how the court has bolstered religious rights, and notably those of Christians, in recent years.

Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, writing for the majority in the 6 to 3 vote, said that “respect for religious expressions is indispensable to life in a free and diverse republic — whether those expressions take place in a sanctuary or on a field, and whether they manifest through the spoken word or a bowed head.”

Mr. Kennedy’s prayers, the court’s six conservative justices ruled, were protected by the First Amendment, and the Bremerton School District had erred in suspending him after he refused to end the practice. The decision was in tension with decades of Supreme Court precedents that forbade pressuring students to participate in religious activities.

Mr. Kennedy said in a statement after the Supreme Court ruling last year that he was delighted and that all he had ever wanted “was to be back on the field with my guys.”

A spokeswoman for Mr. Kennedy said in an email that he was not available for an interview on Wednesday evening.

Rachel Laser, the president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which represented the school board in the case, said in a statement on Wednesday that Mr. Kennedy’s not wanting to coach at Bremerton “isn’t a surprise; it’s just one more example of why the Supreme Court should not have taken this case in the first place.”

She added: “All along, a shadow network of religious extremists was using this case to advance a Christian nationalist agenda to infuse Christianity into our public schools. They cared little about true religious freedom for students, families and employees at Bremerton or any other public school.”

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