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Arlington, VA—Today in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 6-3 decision, ensuring that free speech doesn’t end when people work for the state. Government employs millions of Americans including teachers, professors, coaches, tutors, and administrators. And the Kennedy case – popularly known as the “praying coach” case – asked how government can regulate the personal expression of the people it hires. The answer comes down clearly in defense of the people.
“With free speech under attack, it’s encouraging to see a strong ruling in defense of people’s Constitutional rights – and the progress they make possible,” said Casey Mattox, First Amendment attorney and vice president for legal and judicial strategy at Americans For Prosperity Foundation (AFPF). “Nearly one in every six people work for the government in our country. The court’s ruling makes clear that government, as an employer, cannot punish the people it hires for their own personal expression. That’s the case whether it’s a prayer after a high school game or a controversial view from a college professor. Protecting First Amendment rights for some protects them for all.”
Joseph Kennedy, a former high school assistant coach at his local public school, brought the case. But this isn’t just about one coach, and it’s not just about a post-game prayer.
Today’s ruling shows that the category of regulable “government speech” is very narrow and the realm of protected speech is very broad. AFPF raised that point in our amicus brief:
Subject to certain narrow limitations, speech rights of public employees are protected by the First Amendment. The power of government to speak on its own behalf and the authority of a government employer to manage its own operations are cabined by the First Amendment’s prohibition against conditioning public employment on surrendering constitutional protections.