A group launched by former Vice President Mike Pence to promote conservative values has urged the Supreme Court to hear a case involving a football coach who was fired for praying on-field after games.
Advancing American Freedom was among about 70 organizations and individuals who joined in an amicus brief asking the justices to take up the case of Joseph Kennedy, who was dismissed in 2015 as the coach at Bremerton High School in Washington state, Politico said. The brief was filed Monday.
"When a public official engages in silent prayer on bended knee following the completion of one of his most important job responsibilities, that prayer is universally understood by all reasonable observers to be an act of personal thanks and devotion. It is absurd to label an act of obvious personal gratitude and humility governmental speech that is prohibited by the Constitution," the amicus brief said.
"Indeed, it is commonplace in our Republic for public officials to pray aloud in front of public audiences, which has since the time of the Founding been understood to be a permissible and healthy expression of the personal faith of the speaker, rather than an impermissible endorsement of religion by the government."
Kennedy v. Bremerton School District likely will be granted review, Politico said, because four justices signed a statement that appeared to raise doubts about the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision in favor of the school district when the Supreme Court turned down the case in 2019.
At the time, the justices urged clarification on the specific issue of whether Kennedy was fired due to his brief, post-game prayers or because of a failure to supervise his players during that time.
The appeals court, based in San Francisco, issued its latest opinion in March, when it said Kennedy's prayer eventually was joined by numerous members of the team.
That led to at least one complaint from a parent whose son was an atheist and came to believe he would not get as much playing time if he didn't join in the post-game prayer.
The Circuit Court said the school was justified in firing Kennedy based on concerns that his conduct violated the Constitution's guarantee against establishment of religion.
The brief from Pence's group blasted the appeals court's decision as "egregiously wrong."
"Americans of faith do not turn their devotion off and on like a light switch, and we must reject any attempt by the government to control private religious expression — especially those who call on their faith when answering the call to participate in public service," Pence said in a statement Monday.
"Advancing American Freedom will always stand up to unconstitutional restrictions on personal religious freedom and the free exercise of religion that are the lifeblood of our Republic."
The Young America's Foundation, with former Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis., as president, also signed on to the amicus brief, Politico said.
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