- Apr 7, 2021
- Reaction score
- Political Leaning
Given that this issue is going before the supreme court, I want to see DP's opinion on it.
An article for background information:
An article for background information:
Rest of the article can be read here: https://1430wcmy.com/2022/04/06/public-school-coach-asks-supreme-court-to-ok-post-game-prayers/#(BREMERTON, Wash.) — A coach’s personal act of prayer that grew into a public spectacle after Bremerton High School football games is now a major test of the First Amendment in a case this month before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The coach, Joe Kennedy, who was suspended by the school in 2015 over post-game prayers on the field, is asking the justices to affirm the right of public school employees to pray aloud while on the job, even when within view of students they coach or teach.
“This is a right for everybody. It doesn’t matter if you’re this religion or that religion or have no faith whatsoever,” Kennedy told ABC News . “Everybody has the same rights in America.”
The school district says Kennedy’s prayers, some of which were surrounded by players at the 50 yard-line, are hardly private acts of faith and run afoul of constitutional prohibitions against promotion of religion by government officials.
The First Amendment protects free speech and free exercise of religion, but it also prohibits the establishment of religion by the government. The Supreme Court has long said that public school-sponsored prayer violates the Establishment Clause, even if the prayer is voluntary.
It has struck down Bible readings and teacher-led prayer in classrooms, religious invocations at graduations and religious displays at other school sponsored activities. In a 2000 case, Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, the court said that opening football games with student-led prayer is also unconstitutional.
At the same time, the court has ruled that free speech rights don’t end at the schoolhouse gate and that religion need not be entirely expunged from public schools.
While Kennedy routinely prayed on the field after games for more than seven years, attracting varying levels of participation from students, it wasn’t until 2015 that the school district informed him that separation of church and state meant he could no longer pray with players and keep his job.
“They just said if anybody could see you anywhere here, it was over,” Kennedy said.
The school district explained at the time that the prayers violated “constitutionally-required directives that he refrain from engaging in overt, public religious displays on the football field while on duty.”
Some Bremerton High School parents like Paul Peterson, whose son Aaron played for coach Kennedy in 2010, later complained the prayer sessions were applying inappropriate pressure.
“The coach is a leader. The coach is a mentor. If he goes to the 50-yard line, he has a message he wants to deliver, and so the players would follow,” said Peterson in an interview.
“The harm is to those who are the minority students, the minority faiths, the students who have no faith,” he said. “They are being pressured into doing something that they don’t fundamentally agree with. That’s what the First Amendment protects us from.”
Kennedy insists there was no coercion, though widely publicized scenes show his post-game prayers became much more than solitary acts of faith.
Attorney Jeremy Dys, representing Kennedy on behalf of the First Liberty Institute, said the coach should not be held accountable for the voluntary decisions of others to join him in an expression of faith.
“He’s not on the field coaching anybody, he’s not telling what play to run. No instruction taking place,” Dys said. “School districts don’t own every word out of your mouth or any religious expression that you choose to make in your private time, even on school grounds.”
A federal appeals court called Kennedy’s characterization of his prayers as brief, quiet and solitary as a “deceitful narrative,” noting that they were clearly audible prayers surrounded by groups of students, amounting to unlawful religious speech as “a school official.”
“If this were a case about a coach who in fact wanted to pray privately, in a solitary manner, we wouldn’t be here,” said Rachel Laser, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a nonprofit advocacy group backing the school district. “You don’t leave that behind when you go teach or coach at a public school, but what you do leave behind is your ability to engage students who are very impressionable, who are required to attend public school.”