In a 6-3 ruling on Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that a Washington State High School football coach had the right to pray on the field after games, a sentence that could have a big impact on prayer in public schools.
The Conservative majority on the top court sided with Joe Kennedy, a former assistant football coach at an institute near Seattle who knelt down and prayed in the 50-yard line after his team’s games. The court argued that the free exercise and freedom of expression clauses of the First Amendment protected their right to do so.
“Both the free exercise and expression clauses of the First Amendment protect expressions such as that of Mr. Kennedy,” Judge Neil Gorsuch wrote in the court’s opinion. “Nor does a proper understanding of the Amendment Clause require the government to highlight private religious discourse for special disfavor. The Constitution and the best of our traditions advise mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and suppression, both for views religious as for non-religious. “
“The Constitution neither mandates nor allows the government to suppress that religious expression,” Gorsuch added.
Judges Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer disagreed. Sotomayor argued that the decision of the Conservative majority “weakens the support” of the free exercise clause and the constitution clause of the First Amendment.
“It elevates an individual’s interest in personal religious exercise, at the exact time and place that that individual chooses, over society’s interest in protecting the separation between church and state, eroding the protections of religious freedom for all,” he wrote.
Today’s decision is especially wrong because it elevates the religious rights of a school official, who has voluntarily accepted public employment and the limits that public employment implies, on those of his students, who are required to attend school and whom this Court recognizes they have long been especially vulnerable and deserving of protection, “Sotomayor continued. In doing so, the Court is exposing a dangerous path by forcing states to become entangled in religion, with all our rights pending.
“As much as the Court protests otherwise, today’s decision is not a victory for religious freedom,” he added.
Kennedy, a Christian and former football coach at Bremerton High School in Bremerton, Washington, began coaching at the school in 2008 and initially prayed only in the 50-yard line at the end of the games. But students began to join him, and over time he began to offer a brief inspirational talk with religious references. Kennedy did this for years and led students to locker room prayers. The school district knew what he was doing in 2015 and asked him to stop.
Kennedy stopped guiding students in prayer in the locker room and on the field, but wanted to keep praying in the field, with students free to join if they wished. Concerned about being sued for violating students ’religious freedom rights, the school asked him to stop his practice of kneeling and praying while he was still“ on duty ”as a coach after the game. The school tried to find a solution so that Kennedy could pray in private before or after the game. As he continued to kneel and pray in the field, the school put him on paid leave.
The court’s decision overturns decisions of the lower courts, which sided with the school district, determining that his choice to pray in such a prominent place was not protected by the First Amendment because he acted as a public servant.
The high court ruling is the second in less than a week in favor of religious plaintiffs. Last week, the Conservative 6-3 Supreme Court ruling ruled that religious schools cannot be excluded from a Maine program that offers tuition grants for private education, a decision that could make it easier for religious organizations to access religious money. taxpayers.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
The Supreme Court sided with the coach in the case of prayer
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