newssupreme court rules for high school football coach who led on field prayers after games

Supreme Court rules for high school football coach who led on-field prayers after games

Chris Graham

casas de apuestasThe Supreme Court sided Monday with a former Washington high school football coach who had been told by his school district that he couldn’t pray at the 50-yard line after games.

The 6-3 ruling in Kennedy vs. Bremerton School District came down among the traditional conservative/progressive lines.

Joseph Kennedy was an assistant coach at Bremerton High School who offered public prayers following games for eight years, with players and students often joining him.

In 2015, the school district instructed Kennedy not to pray if it interfered with his duties or involved students.

The district gave him a poor performance evaluation, and he did not apply to renew his contract after the 2015 football season.

The former coach then sued the school district, claiming violations of his right to free expression and religious freedom.

Kennedy said he had only sought to offer a brief, silent prayer akin to saying grace before a meal. The school district took the position that the public nature of his prayers and his stature as a coach could lead students and student-athletes to feel compelled to participate.

The parent of a former Bremerton player wrote an op-ed for to make the case that Kennedy had “crossed a line” when he started praying with students.

“Teenagers see coaches as authority figures who determine playing time and influence how well they interact with the rest of their teammates, their friends,” Paul Peterson wrote in the op-ed. “When Kennedy met with the entire team on the field immediately following games, with the community watching, it would have been incredibly hard for a teenager, any teenager, to refuse to participate, even if Kennedy’s prayers conflicted with the student’s personal religious beliefs.

“I feel for any kids, especially religious minorities or nonreligious kids, who participated because they thought it was the only way to be a good teammate, to impress their coach and to be included as part of the team,” Peterson wrote.

The Court’s conservative majority didn’t seem to weigh the competing interests of adults and students in its decision.

“Both the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment protect expressions like Mr. Kennedy’s,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the majority opinion. “Nor does a proper understanding of the Amendment’s Establishment Clause require the government to single out private religious speech for special disfavor. The Constitution and the best of our traditions counsel mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and suppression, for religious and nonreligious views alike.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a dissenting opinion that the court “consistently has recognized that school officials leading prayer is constitutionally impermissible,” and that the ruling did a “disservice” to “the nation’s longstanding commitment to the separation of church and state.”

“Today’s decision is particularly misguided because it elevates the religious rights of a school official, who voluntarily accepted public employment and the limits that public employment entails, over those of his students, who are required to attend school and who this Court has long recognized are particularly vulnerable and deserving of protection,” Sotomayor wrote in the dissent, which was joined by the Court’s two other liberal justices, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan. “In doing so, the Court sets us further down a perilous path in forcing States to entangle themselves with religion, with all of our rights hanging in the balance.”

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris has won 17 Virginia Press Association awards for his work as an investigative reporter, feature writer and columnist. Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, both published in 2019, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to my YouTube page, Want to reach Chris? Try [email protected].