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Supreme Court rules school district cannot prohibit football coach's on field prayer

The Court hands down the 6-3 decision as we near the end of their term

Published: June 27, 2022 10:11am

Updated: June 27, 2022 12:36pm

The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that a Washington school district violated the First Amendment rights of a high school football coach when he lost his job for praying on the field after games.

Joseph Kennedy, a football coach at Bremerton High school, had engaged in private prayer at the 50 yard line after games.

After a parent complained to the district that their son felt pressured to join the prayer despite being an atheist, the district asked Kennedy to stop. After telling the district he refused to comply, and being joined by a number of students and parents in the post game prayer, the district declined to rehire Kennedy upon a performance review. 

"A government entity sought to punish an individual for engaging in a personal religious observance, based on a mistaken view that it has a duty to suppress religious observances even as it allows comparable secular speech," Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the majority opinion.

The case begged the question of whether a "reasonable observer" would associate Kennedy's prayer as a government endorsement of his religion, which the six conservative justices on the court ruled was not the case. 

In the dissenting opinion, Justice Sonia Sotomayor argued that "Official-led prayer strikes at the core of our constitutional protections for the religious liberty of students and their parents." Justices Breyer and Kagan joined in the dissent. 

This decision is the most recent in a whirlwind of conservative victories from the court. Last week, the court struck down a New York law limiting the right to carry a firearm and overturned the constitutional right to abortion established by Roe v. Wade. 

Reactions poured in from both sides of the debate following the decision.

"At a time when free speech and free expression in the workplace is under full assault by cancel culture activists, Joe Kennedy’s victory represents an important stand against a woke crowd – one that seeks to punish or fire people simply for expressing an opinion,” said Center for Individual Rights President Terry Pell. 

"This is a serious blow to the long-held principle that students have the religious liberty right to be free from school-sponsored prayer," the ACLU Tweeted. 

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