The U.S. Supreme Court has delivered yet another victory for the freedom of religion by siding with a high school coach who sought to lead players in voluntary prayer after football games.
In Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, the Supreme Court in a 6-3 decision ruled that the Constitution defends the rights of Americans to exercise their First Amendment Rights in public forums, including schools. Justice Neil Gorsuch, a Trump appointee, ruled that Joe Kennedy, a junior varsity head coach and varsity assistant coach, even as a government employee, cannot be discriminated against because of his religious views.
“Here, a government entity sought to punish an individual for engaging in a brief, quiet, personal religious observance doubly protected by the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment. And the only meaningful justification the government offered for its reprisal rested on a mistaken view that it had a duty to ferret out and suppress,” Justice Gorsuch wrote. “Religious observances even as it allows comparable secular speech. The Constitution neither mandates nor tolerates that kind of discrimination.”
As reported by Fox News, Kennedy “began the practice of reciting a post-game prayer by himself, but eventually students started joining him. According to court documents, this evolved into motivational speeches that included religious themes. After an opposing coach brought it to the principal’s attention, the school district told Kennedy to stop. He did, temporarily, then notified the school that he would resume the practice.”
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“The situation garnered media attention, and when Kennedy announced that he would go back to praying on the field, it raised security concerns,” the report continued. “When he did pray after the game, a number of people stormed the field in support.”
“The school district then offered to let Kennedy pray in other locations before and after games, or for him to pray on the 50-yard line after everyone else had left the premises, but he refused, insisting that he would continue his regular practice,” the report continued. “After continuing the prayers at two more games, the school district placed Kennedy on leave.”
“The school district’s reasoning was that if they allowed Kennedy, their employee, to pray on the field at a school game, it would violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which protects separation of church and state,” the report noted.
“That reasoning was misguided,” the majority opinion said. “Both the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment protect expressions like Mr. Kennedy’s. Nor does a proper understanding of the Amendment’s Establishment Clause require the government to single out private religious speech for special disfavor. ”
Read the entire opinion below:
The Supreme Court ruling is being cast as a win for Christian conservatives; more importantly, it is a victory for freedom of conscience and legal consistency on First Amendment Rights. After all, if football players have the right to kneel before or after a game in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, religious believers have the right to kneel in prayer to God.
The Supreme Court’s Kennedy decision to allow prayer at school comes after last week’s high court rulings that defended gun rights and state abortion laws.