WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congressman Jamie Raskin (MD-08) led 10 congressional colleagues in filing an amicus brief in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, a case pending before the Supreme Court involving school prayer at public high school football games.
Rep. Raskin argues that by pressuring students to join his public prayers at the 50-yard line during school football games, Bremerton High School football coach Joseph A. Kennedy violated the Establishment Clause and students’ religious freedom. Rep. Raskin’s brief represents his continuing commitment to religious freedom and the separation of church and state.
“No student at a public school should ever have to choose between religious freedom and playing on a sports team,” said Rep. Raskin. “With their coach determining playing time and team leadership, students face immense pressure to join in coach-directed prayer—potentially dishonoring their own faith or devaluing their family’s belief system. An inclusive constitutional democracy means that government cannot endorse religion or compel young people to participate in sectarian exercises.”
“This is not a case of religious discrimination against Coach Kennedy, who refused ample accommodations for his personal private prayer,” Rep. Raskin observed. “This is about whether a school will be compelled to allow a football coach to conduct religious prayers with players on school time during sports games.”
“Public schools play a critical role in educating our children, including those who are religious minorities and those who adhere to no religion. The Supreme Court has long recognized the importance of recognizing an individual’s right to engage in private, personal religious activity in public schools while ensuring that students are not compelled to participate in religious activities that contravene their faith or lack thereof. I’m proud to join this amicus brief to ensure the Court continues to ensure students are not coerced, explicitly or implicitly, by their public schools to engage in religious activities, and I thank Rep. Raskin for his leadership on this issue,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (NY-10).
“In the United States, Freedom of Religion includes the freedom to not participate in a religious community. Our public schools must remain neutral on issues of religion, and students in public schools should never be coerced into religious practice – of any religion – by a government-employed authority figure. This brief makes plain the vital role of public schools as a unifying force in society that should not promote any specific faith agenda. I am proud to join this brief on a case that is so important for the future of religious freedom in the United States,” said Rep. Jared Huffman (CA-02), Co-Chair of the Congressional Freethought Caucus.
“The guarantees of religious freedom in the First Amendment have long been essential to our democracy. In fact, over two centuries ago, the General Assembly in my home state of Virginia adopted the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which later served as the basis for the First Amendment’s protection of free exercise and prohibition on the establishment of religion by the government,” said Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (VA-03), Chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor. “The Supreme Court should uphold these protections by reaffirming that school staff cannot pressure or lead students into school prayer or other religious activity. The choice of whether to pray in school belongs to students and their families, not schools or staff.”
The case is headed before the Supreme Court for oral arguments on April 25, following appeals where both the district and circuit courts ruled in favor of the Bremerton School District. In the initial ruling, the district court held that the school district was justified in its actions because it suspended Kennedy solely on constitutional liability concerns.
Rep. Raskin joins a broad coalition of organizations and individuals expected to submit briefs in support of the school district, ranging from religious organizations and education groups representing school administrators and teachers and state and local officials to First Amendment experts and social scientists along with retired NFL players and retired military chaplains.
Members of Congress signing Rep. Raskin’s amicus brief include Reps. Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01), Steve Cohen (TN-09), Jared Huffman (CA-02), Carolyn B. Maloney (NY-12), Jerrold Nadler (NY-10), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Mark Pocan (WI-02), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (VA-03) and Rashida Tlaib (MI-13).
The full amicus brief can be found here.