Supreme Court to Decide If Praying Is Allowed in Football

Supreme Court to Decide If Praying Is Allowed in Football

( – On Monday, April 25, the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) heard a case that could have nationwide implications. After NFL football games, it’s not uncommon for players and coaches to gather for prayer after a game. No one questions if there is discrimination or coercion against players who don’t participate in the prayer activity. Yet, one high school football coach had taken his case to the SCOTUS, arguing the school district violated his First Amendment rights.

High school football coach Joseph Kennedy began praying with his players in 2008. By 2015, his players and players from the opposing team would join the coach at the 50-yard line after games. The Bremerton School District warned the coach that he couldn’t pray on the field. The coach’s attorney said the case hinges on one question: can a school employee express their faith on school grounds?

Is This a Case of Religious Discrimination?

Kennedy’s attorney, Paul Clement, argued before the SCOTUS that the chief issue at stake is whether or not a teacher or coach could engage in religious exercise while performing their duties. The coach contends that the school district violated his right to free speech and the free exercise of religion guaranteed in the US Constitution. Clement said the court has repeatedly declared a student’s right to practice their faith on school grounds and that the court should clarify the law to determine if teachers and coaches have the same rights as students.

The school district has a different view. School officials say they didn’t persecute Kennedy for his faith. Attorney Richard Katskee told the justices that the football coach didn’t participate in private prayer. Instead, he was on the 50-yard line for everyone to witness, on a field paid for with taxpayer dollars. Therefore, in the school district’s judgment, he’s endorsing religion as a government employee.

So, the case is really about a conflict that the SCOTUS must resolve. It’s about whether government workers enjoy free speech and religious rights or if the Constitutional principle prohibiting government endorsement of religion takes priority.

Justices Appear Receptive to the Coach’s Viewpoint

Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch, and Chief Justice John Roberts appeared receptive to the coach’s position. Even left-leaning Justice Stephen Breyer acknowledged that the case might be more about who’s facts were correct and less about the law.

Thomas and Alito signaled they were skeptical that Kennedy’s religious expression rose to the level of government speech. Gorsuch appeared interested in going one step further to suggest that school districts overly rely on a 1971 ruling in Lemon v. Kurtzman. The Lemon rule created a legal test that evaluates the separation of church and state under the Establishment Clause. Conservatives have said that it favors secularism and excludes people of faith.

So, will the court rule for Kennedy?

One can never assume how the high court will rule in a case based on a hearing.

Stay tuned. The court will decide in late June or early July.

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