This past Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the First Amendment protects a public school coach’s freedom to pray in front of pupils. At least six justices on the US Supreme Court have sided with an American high school football coach who prayed on the field after games.
The court ruled on Thursday that the Washington State School District violated former Bremerton High School coach Joseph Kennedy’s free speech and religious freedom when it suspended him in 2015 for refusing to halt his post-game prayers. He began praying on the 50-yard line at the conclusion of games when he became the head coach in 2008. Students came to join him, and over time he began to provide a brief, motivational discourse with religious undertones. For many years, Kennedy led kids in locker room prayers, and he also prayed with them.
“This is a right for everybody. It doesn’t matter if you’re this religion or that religion or have no faith whatsoever,” said Kennedy.
This decision was made by a majority of conservative judges with disagreement from liberal ones, resulting in an 8-3 victory for Coach. The judges ruled that the coach’s prayer constituted protected speech under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
“The Constitution and the best of our traditions counsel mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and suppression, for religious and nonreligious views alike,” Justice Gorsuch wrote for the court’s majority in his opinion.
One of the justices dissented on Monday, writing, “It sets us further down a perilous path in forcing states to entangle with religion.”
Some experts say this undermines the separation of religion and state, which might have societal repercussions as a result.
“I can definitely see more of a push to include prayer within more activities on the local level, especially having to do with public schools,” said Melba Pearson, from the Florida International University Center for the Administration of Justice.
It’s a rule that’s sure to keep school officials occupied. “I think every general counsel of every school district is thinking about this,” said Charlton Copeland, University of Miami Law Professor.