WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court’s conservative majority appeared to be looking on Monday for a slender option to rule in favor of a former highschool soccer coach who misplaced his job for praying on the 50-yard line after his crew’s video games.
The activity was difficult by factual disputes over the conduct of the coach, Joseph A. Kennedy, and the shifting rationales supplied by the varsity district in Bremerton, Wash., for disciplining him.
According to Paul D. Clement, considered one of Mr. Kennedy’s attorneys, his shopper had sought to supply solely a short, silent and solitary prayer of thanks after his crew’s video games. Earlier episodes, together with prayers in the locker room, weren’t related, Mr. Clement mentioned.
Richard B. Katskee, a lawyer for the Bremerton School District, mentioned the varsity was entitled to require that its staff chorus from public prayer if college students have been prone to really feel coerced into collaborating.
He was challenged by among the extra conservative justices, who mentioned the district had initially argued that it might cease Mr. Kennedy from praying on a special floor: that the varsity could be perceived to be endorsing faith by permitting it. They recommended that the concern of coercion was a rationalization after the actual fact.
Justices throughout the ideological spectrum peppered the attorneys with hypothetical questions. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. requested whether or not Mr. Kennedy might have prayed aloud whereas standing along with his arms outstretched. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. requested whether or not Mr. Kennedy would have been disciplined for protesting the invasion of Ukraine, local weather change or racial injustice.
The tenor of the questioning from the court docket’s conservative members was unsurprising, as 4 of them had issued a press release questioning a preliminary ruling in favor of the officers from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco.
“The Ninth Circuit’s understanding of the free speech rights of public-school teachers is troubling and may justify review in the future,” Justice Alito wrote on the time. He was joined by Justices Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas.
“What is perhaps most troubling about the Ninth Circuit’s opinion,” Justice Alito added, “is language that can be understood to mean that a coach’s duty to serve as a good role model requires the coach to refrain from any manifestation of religious faith — even when the coach is plainly not on duty.”
After additional proceedings, a unanimous three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit once more dominated in opposition to Mr. Kennedy, saying that faculty officers have been entitled to forbid his public prayers to keep away from a possible violation of the First Amendment’s prohibition of presidency institution of faith.
The full Ninth Circuit declined to rehear the case over the objections of 11 judges. The two sides sharply disagreed about the best way to characterize Mr. Kennedy’s actions.
Judge Milan D. Smith Jr., the creator of the panel opinion, wrote that “Kennedy made it his mission to intertwine religion with football.”
“He led the team in prayer in the locker room before each game, and some players began to join him for his postgame prayer, too, where his practice ultimately evolved to include full-blown religious speeches to, and prayers with, players from both teams after the game, conducted while the players were still on the field and while fans remained in the stands,” Judge Smith wrote.
In response, Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain mentioned the panel opinion had issues backward. “It is axiomatic that teachers do not ‘shed’ their First Amendment protections ‘at the schoolhouse gate,’” he wrote, quoting a 1969 Supreme Court determination. “Yet the opinion in this case obliterates such constitutional protections by announcing a new rule that any speech by a public-school teacher or coach, while on the clock and in earshot of others, is subject to plenary control by the government.”
On Monday, Justice Stephen G. Breyer, mentioned the case, Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, No. 21-418, introduced uncommon challenges. “This may be a case about the facts and not really much about the law,” he mentioned.