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A Conservative Supreme Court: Lessons from Kennedy v. Bremerton School District

In Kennedy v. Bremerton School District (“Bremerton”), the United States Supreme Court flexed its conservative muscles to alter the landscape of First Amendment jurisprudence.

In Bremerton, a high school football coach was fired from Bremerton School District for praying after football games. The football coach, Joseph Kennedy, was told to stop praying with the team by the school district after they became aware of his practice. Kennedy complied. However, Kennedy continued to pray by himself, silently, after games. The District asked Kennedy to either pray in complete privacy or show no outward signs of praying. Kennedy then sued the School District.

Why Would the School District Care So Much?

Bremerton School District tried to put a stop to Kennedy’s prayers because they believed Mr. Kennedy’s prayers violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. The Establishment Cause is found in the First Amendment of the Constitution, and it is read to prevent government endorsement of religion. The School District believed Kennedy’s prayers would be perceived as endorsed by the school and therefore violative of the Establishment Clause.

So What did the Supreme Court Decide?

The Supreme Court decided Kennedy’s prayers were not in violation of the Establishment Clause. Rather, the Supreme Court said the District violated Kennedy’s First Amendment rights by not allowing him to engage in private prayer after games.

To support their conclusion, the Court relied heavily on the fact that Kennedy’s speech was private, not government speech.  The Court said, “When Mr. Kennedy uttered the three prayers that resulted in his suspension, he was not engaged in speech “ordinarily within the scope” of his duties as a coach. He did not speak pursuant to government policy. He was not seeking to convey a government-created message. He was not instructing players, discussing strategy, encouraging better on-field performance, or engaged in any other speech the District paid him to produce as a coach.”

What Does This Mean for My Business?

The outcome of Bremerton is unlikely to directly impact private employers. However, Bremerton is one of the many high-profile cases the Supreme Court decided this term. Each case highlighted the Court’s conservativism, especially when compared to Biden’s left-leaning Administration.   Employers should expect more conservative decisions coming from the Supreme Court.