For Immediate Release
Kate Uesugi, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-238-9088 (ext. 105)
(Washington, DC, April 1, 2022) – Today, the American Humanist Association (AHA) joins Freedom From Religion Foundation to file an amicus brief with the Supreme Court of the United States in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District. The brief expresses the AHA’s support for Bremerton School District and emphasizes the need to protect the religious freedom of public school students.
Joe Kennedy served as head coach of the junior varsity football team and assistant coach of the varsity team at Bremerton High School. Kennedy would regularly give a post-game prayer at the 50-yard line and encouraged students to join him. Some residents grew worried about this practice, concerned for students who opted to not join the prayer who may feel alienated and potentially ostracized.
“Public school officials violate the First Amendment at its core when they coerce students directly or through social pressure to participate in prayer in connection with a school activity,” noted AHA Legal Director and Senior Counsel Monica Miller. “Our amicus brief also demands procedural equality for nonreligious plaintiffs, meaning we want the Supreme Court to treat our clients the same way it treats Christian plaintiffs.”
The brief, authored by counsel for Freedom From Religion Foundation and joined by the AHA along with the Center for Inquiry and Secular Coalition for America, argues that the case itself has become moot, especially since Kennedy has “removed himself from the threat of allegedly unconstitutional policies” and has since become a Florida resident, meaning he can no longer sue a Washington school district over its policies. Regardless, if the Court does review the merits of this case, it must consider the harm to nonreligious students.
“The unique features of the coach-student relationship coerce nonreligious students to participate in coach-led prayers. This type of religious activity has harmed students in numerous respects, including by marginalizing nonreligious students and making them susceptible to attacks from other students and members of the community,” states the brief.
“Public school students should never be pressured to abandon their beliefs in order to feel like they are part of a team or the school community,” comments AHA Executive Director Nadya Dutchin. “We must protect students’ rights to freedom from and of religion and ensure we are creating inclusive and welcoming school environments for our children.”
Arguments in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District will be heard on April 25, 2022.
A copy of the amicus brief can be found here.
The American Humanist Association (AHA) works to protect the rights of humanists, atheists, and other nontheistic Americans. The AHA advances the ethical and life-affirming worldview of humanism, which—without beliefs in gods or other supernatural forces—encourages individuals to live informed and meaningful lives that aspire to the greater good of humanity.
Special thanks to the Louis J. Appignani Foundation for their support of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.