The United States Supreme Court sided with a Bremerton High School football coach who got in trouble for praying with his players after games.
The court’s conservative majority ruled that Joe Kennedy’s prayers were protected by the First Amendment.
Kennedy’s postgame prayers on the 50-yard lane became a national story
The Bremerton School District suspended Kennedy and said the prayers could signal official support for religion.
However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in favor of Kennedy.
“I think it’s a great ruling for America,” said Kennedy. “People of faith or no faith, everyone has the same rights and that’s what the constitution is all about.”
Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote: “Here, a government entity sought to punish an individual for engaging in a brief, quiet, personal religious observance.”
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Sonia Sotomayor took the unusual step of including photos showing how the prayers actually became very public.
She wrote the ruling “sets us further down a perilous path in forcing states to entangle themselves with religion.”
Americans United for Separation of Church and State represented the district and said the ruling ignored the rights of students who might have felt coerced to join the prayer.
“The court was not concerned for students who feel like they have to pray to play,” said Rachel Laser with Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
The National Education Association is also worried about student coercion.
The NEA’s attorney said the implications of a ruling that limits how school districts can manage employee expression is still not clear.
“Teachers who have been disciplined for putting up Pride flags or Black Lives Matter posters in their classrooms will be able to draw this opinion in a very positive way, potentially,” said Jason Walta with NEA.
Kennedy has said he wants his job back, but the school district said it is not clear yet what will happen in the fall.
The district’s attorney pointed out that Kennedy had moved to Florida.
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