Supreme Court rules for coach in public school prayer case
Category: News & PoliticsVia: vic-eldred • one month ago • 402 comments
The Supreme Court ruled Mondaythat a Washington state high school football coach had a right to pray on the field immediately after games, a decision that could lead to more acceptance of religious expression in public schools.
The ruling was a victory for Joseph Kennedy, who claimed that the Bremerton School District violated his religious freedom by telling him he couldn't pray so publicly after the games. The district said it was trying to avoid the appearance that the school was endorsing a religious point of view.
In recent years, a more conservative Supreme Court has been inclined to view government actions it once considered to be neutral and necessary to maintain separation of church and state as hostile to religious expression.
One issue in the case was whether the coach's decision to pray in such a prominent place, on the 50-yard line, amounted to a private moment of giving thanks or a public demonstration of his religious faith that his players may have felt compelled to join.
Kennedy urged the Supreme Court to find that he was acting on his own behalf, expressing his own religious views, not speaking not as a mouthpiece for the school. But the school district said the students on the football team looked up to their coach and felt coerced into doing as he did.
Post game prayer (Meegan M. Reid / Kitsap Sun via AP file)
He became an assistant coach of the varsity football team at Bremerton High School in 2008 and later began offering a brief prayer on the field after games ended and the players and coaches met midfield to shake hands. The school district eventually told him he should find a private location for praying.
But he declined and continued his practice of dropping to one knee and praying on the 50-yard line. He later invited journalists and a state legislator to watch. The district gave him a poor performance evaluation, and he did not apply to renew his contract after the 2015 football season. Kennedy sued, claiming violations of his right to free expression and religious freedom.
Lower federal courts said because he chose to say his prayers in such a prominent place, he was acting as a public employee and his conduct was therefore not protected by the First Amendment. Those rulings cited past Supreme Court decisions that said when public employees act in their official capacities, they are speaking more for the government than for themselves.
Kennedy now lives in Florida but has said that if the Supreme Court ruled in his favor, he would return to Bremerton and seek to regain his job as a part-time football coach.