Supreme Court Sides With High School Coach Over Prayer

Justices say Joe Kennedy shouldn't have been fired for on-field prayers with team
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 27, 2022 9:54 AM CDT
Supreme Court Sides With High School Coach Over Prayer
Joe Kennedy, a former assistant football coach at Bremerton High School in Bremerton, Wash., poses for a photo on March 9, 2022, on the school's football field.   (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

(Newser) – The Supreme Court's conservative majority has once again won the day in a closely watched case, this time over public prayer. The court ruled 6-3 that a high school football coach in Washington state who led prayers with players on the field after games shouldn't have been fired, reports CNN. The majority found that the school district in Bremerton violated the First Amendment rights of assistant coach Joe Kennedy. As the AP notes, Kennedy had prayed in low-key fashion, often alone, after games for years. But eventually players from both teams began joining him, attracting media attention, and the district asked him to stop in 2015. Kennedy (who has since retired) was placed on leave when he continued to kneel and pray on the field.

  • Majority: "The Constitution and the best of our traditions counsel mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and suppression, for religious and nonreligious views alike," wrote Neil Gorsuch in the majority opinion.
  • Dissent: The decision "elevates one individual's interest in personal religious exercise, in the exact time and place of that individual's choosing, over society's interest in protecting the separation between church and state, eroding the protections for religious liberty for all," wrote Sonia Sotomayor, who dissented with Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer, per CNN.
  • Assessment: The case "called for interpretation of how the Constitution's establishment clause, which forbids government endorsement of religion, interacts with its free speech and free exercise clauses, which prohibit government restraints on the private observance of religion," writes Robert Barnes in the Washington Post. "The Roberts court has recently been overwhelmingly protective of religious rights."
(Read more US Supreme Court stories.)

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