Becket, a law firm dedicated to religious liberty, filed the new brief on the USCCB’s behalf. It criticized school officials for saying Kennedy’s actions violated the U.S. Constitution.
“The Constitution exists to protect public expressions of faith, not to stop Americans from praying in public,” Lori Windham, senior counsel at Becket, stressed in a press release on March 2. “The idea that high school football players can handle a tough game, but not the sight of someone kneeling in prayer at the end of the night, is ridiculous.”
“If there’s one thing more American than football, it’s religious freedom,” Windham added. “We hope the Supreme Court confirms what everyone with common sense knows: when a Christian coach kneels in prayer, or a Sikh schoolteacher wears a kirpan, or a Muslim principal fasts for Ramadan, they are expressing their faith, not establishing a religion.”
The Bremerton School District’s brief complains that Kennedy prayed “while on duty” and claimed that the practice “could be coercive.” The district claimed that it tried to “accommodate” Kennedy by suggesting, among other things, that he pray in the press box away from the rest of the team.
The case centers on two questions: “(1) Whether a public-school employee who says a brief, quiet prayer by himself while at school and visible to students is engaged in government speech that lacks any First Amendment protection; and (2) whether, assuming that such religious expression is private and protected by the free speech and free exercise clauses, the establishment clause nevertheless compels public schools to prohibit it.”
In the brief filed March 2, the USCCB states its interest in the “protection of the First Amendment rights of religious organizations and their adherents, and the proper development of this Court’s jurisprudence in that regard.”