High school football coach scores big win at Supreme Court over post-game prayer: A former high school football coach in the state of Washington who was fired after he was caught reciting a prayer on the 50-yard line after games received a significant victory from the Supreme Court.
The question at hand was whether or not a public school employee praying alone but in view of pupils was participating in unprotected “government speech,” and if not, whether or not it still poses a problem under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
On Monday, the Supreme Court delivered a decision that was split 6-3 and said that the answers to both questions are “no.”
“In this case, a government agency attempted to punish an individual for participating in a brief, private, religious observance that was dually protected by the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment as well as the Free Speech Clause 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 Neil Gorsuch wrote in the Court’s opinion.
“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.” “Religious observances even while it permits comparable secular expression. ” That form of discrimination is expressly forbidden by the Constitution, and its violation is a punishable offense.
From 2008 until 2015, Joe Kennedy worked for the Bremerton School District in Washington as a head coach for the junior varsity team and as an assistant coach for the varsity team. He initiated the custom of reciting a post-game prayer by himself at first, but later students began to join him in the ritual.
According to the materials that were submitted to the court, this eventually developed into motivational speeches that incorporated religious topics. Kennedy was instructed to cease his behavior by the school system after an opposing coach brought it to the notice of the administrator. He did so, but only for a short period of time, and then he informed the school that he would continue the practice.
The incident caught the attention of the media, and when Kennedy indicated that he would go back to praying on the field, it prompted worries regarding the safety of the venue. After the game, when he did pray, a number of people ran onto the field to show their support for him.
The school district then offered to allow Kennedy to pray in various spots before and after games, or for him to pray on the 50-yard line after everyone else had left the campus, but he refused, claiming that he would continue his normal practice of praying in the same place every day. After Kennedy continued to pray prior to two additional games, the school district decided to place him on administrative leave.
The school system came to the conclusion that if they let Kennedy, an employee of theirs, to pray on the field during a school game, they would be in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which ensures the separation of church and state.
The consensus of opinions concluded that the line of thinking in question was fallacious. Expressions such as Mr. Kennedy’s are safeguarded under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, in addition to the Free Speech Clause. A correct interpretation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment does not necessitate that the state discriminates against private religious expression on account of its religious content.
According to Gorsuch, not just the Constitution but also “the finest of our traditions” demand for “mutual respect and tolerance, not restriction and suppression, for religious and nonreligious perspectives alike.” Gorsuch made this claim in his statement.
The decision of the court also indicated that there is a specific rationale behind why statements such as Kennedy’s are protected by both the Free Speech Clause and the Free Exercise Clause.
It was no accident that the First Amendment provides double protection for speech related to religion. Gorsuch stated in his writing that it is a natural extension of the framers’ skepticism of attempts by the government to regulate religion and repress dissent.
The Supreme Court provided an explanation as to why Kennedy’s prayer does not qualify as an official speech, despite the fact that he worked for the government. The opinion stated that his words were not “pursuant to a government policy,” that he was not “seeking to convey a government-created message,” and that he was not acting in the normal scope of his duties because the game had already ended, he was not providing instruction or game strategy, and that he prayed during a time when he was free to do other things like “attend briefly to personal matters.”
Justice Samuel Alito also acknowledged in a concurring opinion that John F. Kennedy prayed “while at work but during a time when a brief lull in his duties apparently gave him a few free moments to engage in private activities.” Alito wrote that Kennedy prayed “while at work but during a time when a brief lull in his duties apparently gave him a few free
In the majority opinion of the Court, it was stated that Kennedy had “voluntarily discontinued the school tradition of locker-room prayers and his postgame religious talks to students,” and that the school district had only taken action against him “only for his decision to persist in praying quietly without his players after three games in October 2015.”
Following a request from the District, he ceased the school custom of praying in the locker room and his postgame religious remarks to pupils. However, he did so freely. The only reason he received disciplinary action from the District was that he chose to continue to pray in private after three of his team’s games in October 2015.
It was argued in a dissenting opinion by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was supported by Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer, that the position held by the majority “misconstrues the facts” of the case.
“The record discloses that Kennedy had a lengthy history of performing demonstrative prayers on the 50-yard line of the football field,” Sotomayor said in her opinion. “This practice had been going on for quite some time.” “Kennedy routinely invited other people to join him in prayer, and for years he led a group of student athletes in praying at the same time and in the same place.” The Court chooses to disregard this past.”
Sotomayor also referred to reports that players had felt forced to join Kennedy out of a desire to obtain favor and playing time. She said that this was another reason why players felt they needed to join Kennedy. During oral arguments, Kennedy’s attorney addressed the claim that Kennedy’s prayer had a coercive effect, pointing out that the school district did not cite it as a reason for terminating Kennedy’s employment. The claim that Kennedy’s prayer had a coercive effect was addressed by Kennedy’s attorney.