High School Coach Wins $1.7M Settlement. What does that mean for Florida?

The reinstatement of former Bremerton High School football coach Joseph Kennedy, who was fired for leading midfield prayers with players and other students after games, has raised questions about the impact of the Supreme Court ruling on Florida. Kennedy, who will reportedly receive a $1.7 million settlement, was fired by the Bremerton School District in Washington state for leading post-game prayers on the 50-yard line. However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Kennedy could legally lead prayers under his First Amendment rights to free speech and free exercise of religion.

This ruling has significant implications for Florida, which is known for its strong religious communities and a deep-seated tradition of faith. Many public schools in Florida have allowed voluntary student-led prayers, but official-led prayer has been prohibited since the Supreme Court ruling in Engel v. Vitale in 1962. The Supreme Court had ruled that public schools cannot sponsor or endorse religious activities, including prayer.

However, the ruling in Kennedy vs. Bremerton School District has opened the door for official-led prayer in public schools, as long as it does not interfere with the official duties of the person leading the prayer. This has been seen as a victory for religious freedom and has been welcomed by many conservative groups in Florida.

However, the ruling has also been met with criticism, with many arguing that it could lead to discrimination and exclusion of non-religious students in public schools. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in her dissenting opinion, argued that official-led prayer strikes at the core of our constitutional protections for the religious liberty of students and their parents.

The impact of the ruling in Florida will largely depend on how public schools interpret and implement the ruling. Some schools may choose to allow official-led prayer, while others may continue to prohibit it. It is likely that there will be legal challenges to the ruling, and it remains to be seen how these challenges will be resolved.

Overall, the reinstatement of Joseph Kennedy and the Supreme Court ruling in his favor has sparked a debate about the role of religion in public schools in Florida. While some see it as a victory for religious freedom, others are concerned about the potential for discrimination and exclusion of non-religious students. The impact of the ruling on Florida will become clearer in the coming months and years, as public schools grapple with the implications of the ruling.

The ruling was a 6-3 decision in favor of Kennedy, with every Republican-appointed justice siding with him, while every Democratic-appointed justice dissented, as reported by The Seattle Times. Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the majority, stating that the Constitution and our traditions call for mutual respect and tolerance for religious and nonreligious views alike. Students were not required to participate in Kennedy’s prayer sessions, and the prayers were not publicly broadcast.

Kennedy, a former Marine who served nearly two decades, started coaching at the Washington state school in 2008 and initially prayed alone on the 50-yard line at the end of games. But students and players soon joined him, and he began giving short talks with religious references. The district learned of his prayers and talks and asked him to stop. Initially, he said he would comply and stopped leading students in prayer in the locker room and on the field. But he wanted to continue praying on the field by himself, with students free to join if they wished.

The district had said Kennedy was free to pray on the 50-yard line if it didn’t interfere with his official duties, or when he was off duty, but doing so immediately after a game ended could be seen as the school endorsing religion.

Kennedy’s victory in the Supreme Court is a reminder of the importance of First Amendment rights and religious freedom. While the decision was not without dissent, it highlights the need for mutual respect and tolerance of diverse religious views in our society. Kennedy is now set to return to the school in 2023, where he will reportedly continue his postgame prayers on the field with his players.