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Justices consider case of praying coach


Then–Bremerton High assistant football coach Joe Kennedy (front) leaves the field with his lawyer in 2015, after praying at the 50-yard line following a game in Bremerton, Wash. Associated Press/Photo by Lindsey Wasson/The Seattle Times

Justices consider case of praying coach

The Supreme Court heard arguments Monday over whether former football coach Joseph Kennedy should have been allowed to pray with students at the 50-yard line at Bremerton High School in Washington state. Kennedy prayed with players before games in the locker rooms and afterward privately on the field from the time he started coaching in 2008. Several students joined him. The school district said the action could open it up to lawsuits and placed Kennedy on paid leave in 2015. He did not reapply after his contract ended.

What happened in oral arguments? The justices presented hypotheticals to try to find the line between the religious and free speech rights of teachers and coaches and those of students not to feel religious pressure. The arguments lasted nearly two hours, double the time scheduled. They asked at what point things like wearing ashes on Ash Wednesday and kneeling during the national anthem become a government endorsement of a belief rather than a private act of faith. Both conservative and liberal justices agreed that Kennedy is not allowed to show favoritism or compel his players to pray. But they differed on where a private prayer with students falls on the spectrum.

Dig deeper: Listen to Mary Reichard discuss the case with Steve West on The World and Everything in It podcast.


Mary Muncy

Mary Muncy is a breaking news reporter for WORLD. She graduated from World Journalism Institute and Patrick Henry College.

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