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"He's baaack!" High-profile school prayer case returns to US Supreme Court

By Wayne Young posted 10-04-2021 13:58

It's not yet to the point where it could be described as habitual practice, but the United State Supreme Court now has before it another high-profile case involving public schools that has yo-yoed up and down within the federal court system for years, and is now making its second appearance before the high court. The court recently refused to hear the case of Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board, a case dealing with rights of transgender students, which the court had before it two times over a seven-year period. Now, the court has been asked for a second time to hear a case dealing with religious activity on school grounds. 

The case of Kennedy v. Bremerton School District involves a high school football coach who was dismissed from his coaching duties in 2015 for praying on the field after games. He had been directed by the superintendent to stop the practice, but refused. Kennedy's suit against the district was dismissed by the trial court, and the dismissal was upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Kennedy filed for review with the U. S. Supreme Court, but the court denied his petition for review in 2019. In an unusual move, upon refusing to hear the case, four justices of the Supreme Court joined together in a scathing rebuke of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for its handling of the case. After the Supreme Court action, the case remained active in the 9th Circuit as the parties pursued additional proceedings.

In August of 2021, the 9th Circuit finally brought its dealings with the case to an end, by issuing an order refusing to hear the case "en banc"; that is, hearing it as one panel with all active judges participating (rather than as a three-judge panel, as is normally done). The order refusing to hear the case was split in multiple multiple ways, with individual judges and factions of judges issuing multiple opinions both supporting and opposing the rehearing. 

Kennedy has now filed a second petition with the U. S. Supreme Court, asking for review of his case. The high court began its 2022-23 term today (October 4th), and it will likely be several months before a decision to hear or remand the case is made public. Until then, Kennedy's case remains in limbo as - much like the Grimm case - it enters its seventh year in the federal court system.