WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court sided Monday with a Washington state football coach who sought to kneel and pray on the field after games.
The court ruled 6-3 along the coach’s ideological lines. The judges said the coach’s prayer was protected by the First Amendment.
“The Constitution and the best of our traditions advise mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and repression, for religious and non-religious views,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the majority.
The case forced judges to struggle to balance the religious rights and free speech of teachers and coaches with the right of students not to feel pressured to participate in religious practices. The result could strengthen the acceptability of certain religious practices in the public school setting.
The decision is also the latest in a series of Supreme Court rulings for religious plaintiffs. In another recent example, the court ruled that Maine cannot exclude religious schools from a program that provides tuition assistance for private education, a decision that could make it easier for religious organizations to access taxpayers’ money.
That the court ruled for the coach is perhaps unsurprising. In 2019, the court declined to take up the case at an early stage, but four of the court’s conservatives agreed that a lower court ruling in favor of the school district was “troublesome” to its “understanding of the public school free speech rights”. teachers.”
The case before the judges involved Joseph Kennedy, a Christian and former football coach at Bremerton High School in Bremerton, Washington. Kennedy began coaching at the school in 2008 and initially prayed alone on the 50-yard line at the end of games. But students began to join him, and over time he began to deliver a short inspirational speech with religious references. Kennedy did this for years and led students in locker room prayers. The school district found out what he was doing in 2015 and asked him to stop.
Kennedy stopped leading the students in prayer in the locker room and on the field, but wanted to continue praying on the field itself, with students free to join in if they wished. Afraid of being sued for violating students’ religious freedom rights, the school asked him to stop his practice of kneeling and praying while still ‘on duty’ as a coach after the game. The school tried to find a way for Kennedy to pray privately before or after the game. When he continued to kneel and pray in the field, the school put him on paid leave.
Three court judges themselves attended public high schools while the others attended Catholic schools.
The case is Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, 21-418.
The Huffington Gt