Supreme Court rules on side of football coach

June 27, 2022
A photo of a football field as the sun sets in the background.

Held: The Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment protect an individual engaging in a personal religious observance from government reprisal; the Constitution neither mandates nor permits the government to suppress such religious expression.

The United States Supreme Court in an official decision in a case about whether a public high school football coach had a right to pray on the field after games.

Background: At Bremerton High School in Washington State, assistant football coach Joseph Kennedy had begun praying at the 50-yard line after football games. The district asked him to stop, which he temporarily did before resuming. He was then suspended with pay, did not reapply the next year and sued the district. The Supreme Court heard the case in April.

Why It Matters: The Court ruled 6-3 in favor of the football coach, deciding that his post-game prayers on the field were constitutionally protected. Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the majority: "The Constitution and the best of our traditions counsel mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and suppression, for religious and nonreligious views alike." While some from the district have expressed concern that the coach's prayers may have coerced other students into joining him, the Supreme Court's decision sets a precedent for what religious practices can take place in public school settings across the United States.

  • An excerpt from the majority decision: "Respect for religious expressions is indispensable to life in a free and diverse Republic. Here, 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. The Constitution neither mandates nor tolerates that kind of discrimination."
  • An excerpt from the dissenting opinion: "This decision does a disservice to schools and the young citizens they serve, as well as to our Nation’s longstanding commitment to the separation of church and state … It 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 … In doing so, the Court sets us further down a perilous path in forcing States to entangle themselves with religion, with all of our rights hanging in the balance. As much as the Court protests otherwise, today’s decision is no victory for religious liberty."

Supreme Court sides with coach who sought to pray after game (Associated Press)

God & Football (A SmartHER News background on this case)

Here's a link to the Supreme Court's decision, Kennedy v. Bremerton School District: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/21pdf/21-418_i425.pdf

Supreme Court Says High School Coach Can Pray on Field (The Wall Street Journal)

Supreme Court Decision on Religious Schools Receiving Aid (SmartHERNews; June 22, 2022)

by Jenna Lee,

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