U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of coach in postgame prayer case

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a Bremerton, Wash., high school football coach who lost his job after defying school system demands to stop praying on the line. 50 meters after the games.

The High Court’s 6-3 decision was written by Judge Neil Gorsuch.

Judges Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan disagreed with the opinion.

The court said, “The Freedom of Practice and Freedom of Speech clauses of the First Amendment protect a person engaging in personal religious practice from government retaliation; the Constitution does not require or permit the government to suppress such religious expression.

The case deals with First Amendment protections of personal religious expression and the school system’s fears of being seen as endorsing a religion, which addresses the Constitution’s “establishment clause.” There are also questions about the rights of school employees versus that employee’s duty not to coerce students, especially on religious matters.

The majority said it offered a “silent prayer of thanks”, while the school system expressed concern about the visibility of the prayer in the middle of the field.

In the majority opinion, Gorsuch wrote, “He offered his prayers quietly while his students were otherwise occupied. Yet the Bremerton School District still disciplined him. He did so because he believed that anything less could lead a reasonable observer to conclude (incorrectly) that he endorsed Mr. Kennedy’s religious beliefs. This reasoning was flawed. The freedom of exercise and freedom of speech clauses of the First Amendment protect expressions like that of Mr. Kennedy. Nor does a proper understanding of the amendment’s Establishment Clause require the government to single out private religious speech for any particular disfavour. The Constitution and the best of our traditions advise mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and repression, for religious and non-religious views. »

The majority granted summary judgment for Kennedy in his case against the school system.

Sotomayor, in his dissent, summed up the case differently.

“This case concerns whether a public school should allow a school official to kneel, bow their head and say a prayer in the middle of a school event. The constitution does not authorize, let alone require, public schools to engage in this conduct.

Sotomayor argued that the majority was wrong and failed to recognize legal precedents in cases of religious expression.

“The Court now charts a different course, once again giving almost exclusive attention to the protection of the Free Exercise Clause for individual religious exercise while ignoring the prohibition of the Establishment Clause of establishment of a religion by the state,” she wrote.

Sotomayor also said Kennedy’s role as a coach and authority figure was not properly considered by the majority.

“Today’s ruling is particularly wrong because it elevates the religious rights of a school official, who has voluntarily accepted public employment, and the limitations that public employment entails, over those of his students, who are required to attend school and whom this Court has long recognized as particularly vulnerable and worthy of protection,” she wrote.

The court filing says the coach had been praying in midfield after games for years, but he came to attention in 2015 after an opposing coach praised the practice to the Bremerton High School principal . The system warned him that a school employee could not be seen endorsing a religion, and Kennedy agreed not to ask other students to pray. He also agreed not to pray right after the game, but he refused to stop training and his story attracted national attention, with crowds of fans rushing onto the pitch to pray after a game.

His contract was ultimately not renewed and he filed a complaint.

The high court disagreed on whether it was a private expression, given that he was on duty.

As for the reaction of the Republican candidate for the US Senate, Katie Britt said, “This is great news and a huge victory for religious freedom across America. The Court did the right thing in upholding our First Amendment rights to exercise our faith and speak freely. Coaches, players and participants in sporting events should be 100% free to pray as they personally wish. In the Senate, I will always fight for the religious freedoms of Alabamians and our values.

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Dr. Will Boyd, a pastor, told News 19:

“The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States gives our nation two very specific guidelines regarding religion: “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of any religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. In other words, the letter and spirit of our constitution directs the government – ​​and its representatives – not to favor one religion over another or to inhibit religious practices.

It could be argued that today’s court ruling violates the first directive under the guise of the second by approving a public school coach’s post-game public prayer – if the coach is considered a state agent as an authority figure representing the school system. If so, then his actions were unconstitutional.

On the other hand, if the coach invited players, coaches, athletic directors and event attendees to join him as he prayed and gave an inspirational message that was outside of school activities mandatory, I side with The Court.

This case has its complexities.

Was the coach acting as a government agent or was he simply a life coach offering event attendees a pep talk and prayer?

Can I answer these questions in my function of “armchair justice”?

Absolutely not.

As a pastor and bishop, my life’s mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. My daily desire is to win as many souls as possible to the kingdom of God. I am fully committed to it.

But as a United States senator, who is a member of Congress, I believe it would be unconstitutional for me to compel voters or any other American citizen to attend a place of worship or to compel the hearing of a prayer or a sermon audience.

While I understand the original intent of “separation of church and state”, I also appreciate the concepts – freedom of religion and protection of religious practices. These concepts, which are sacred to the foundation of our nation, make our country great.

When a government or its agents violate any of the constitutional ideals mentioned above, it jeopardizes our ability to be a people who enjoy “freedom and justice for all”.

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Huntsville City Schools spokesman Craig Williams said the court’s decision is under review.

“Huntsville City Schools is closely following this morning’s decision by the United States Supreme Court. The District Legal Counsel will thoroughly review this decision in addition to existing policies and make any adjustments accordingly. »

Madison County Schools spokesperson Carter Watkins also said the decision is being reviewed by system officials.

“The Madison County school system is aware of the United States Supreme Court decision released Monday morning,” he said. “We will review our policy manual and recommend any possible revisions to the Madison County Board of Education if necessary.”


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