WASHINGTON (April 19, 2022)—On April 25, the Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, also known as the “praying coach” case as it involves a former football coach, Joseph Kennedy, who led the team to pray on the school’s football field. While Supreme Court precedent holds that government officials, including public school teachers, may not pressure students into religious activities, the Court’s decision to hear this case may become a challenge to the Establishment Clause.

Robert Tuttle is the David R. and Sherry Kirschner Berz Research Professor of Law and Religion at the George Washington University Law School.

Ahead of April 25 oral arguments Tuttle said this about Kennedy v. Bremerton School District:

What is most striking about this case is that coach Kennedy's lawyers and supporters always talk about his activities as "private, personal prayer."  His brief at SCOTUS does not even mention the school prayer cases as setting the parameters of the dispute.

In contrast, the school district and its supporters, far more accurately, describe Kennedy as having a history of promoting religion with his players and insisting that he be free to pray, immediately after each game, on the 50-yard line where he will be widely noticed. The school is rightly focused on its need to manage its employees in light of the school prayer cases.

My main concern is the overt threat to the school prayer cases, because I fear that 4 and perhaps 5 justices would not be upset to see them effectively overruled.  They are only concerned about coercion of students, but that just collapses the Establishment Clause into the Free Exercise Clause.