Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, No. 18-12 (S. Ct.)
High School football coach Joseph Kennedy was fired because he paused to kneel on the school playing field in silent prayer following games. He was observable by all. At times students sought to join him, which he neither encouraged nor discouraged, nor did he proselytize.
Kennedy was directed not to pray as he had been doing, as the school saw it in violation of a policy making all staff behavior school speech unprotected by the first amendment, He sought an exception because of his sincerely held belief that offering prayer was appropriate. Kennedy received an unfavorable performance review and was dismissed.
Kennedy’s counsel seek United States Supreme Court review, arguing that the First Amendment forbids the Bremerton School District’s policy that deems all “demonstrable communications” observable by students to be constitutionally unprotected school speech.
Counsel submit that the Supreme Court has long recognized that neither student or staff are stripped of First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse door. Although the speech protections of public employees are subject to some limitations, no one has seriously suggested that a public employee is anyone other than a citizen. Petitioner Kennedy observes that the school district policy brings all expression under the umbrella of “school speech,” causing public school employees to lose all First Amendment protections while engaged in an ever-expanding array of activities characterized as work. Kennedy argues that a policy which removes all First Amendment expressive protections for as long as a school employee is at work, as defined by the employer, cannot be constitutionally sound.
The response to Kennedy’s petition for certiorari is due on August 1. It is likely that amicus briefs will be submitted before the petition for certiorari is calendared for conference review.