WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court ruled Monday that a high school football coach had a constitutional right to pray 50 yards after his team’s games, the court’s last step in expanding the place of religion in public life.
The vote was 6 3 against, the three liberal members of the court being different. The decision came a week after the court ruled in the same vote that Maine could not exclude religious schools from the state curriculum.
Judge Neil M. Gorsuch, who wrote for the majority, said that the prayer of the coach, Joseph Kennedy, was protected by the First Amendment and that the school district mistakenly suspended it after he refused to complete the practice.
“Respect for religious expressions is indispensable for living in a free and diverse republic – whether these expressions are on the altar or in the field and are expressed in spoken word or with a bowed head,” he wrote.
Strengthening religious rights, and especially the rights of Christians, was a draft of the court signing, led by Chief Justice John Roberts Jr.
Earlier in the day, the court unanimously ruled in favor of a Christian group trying to raise a flag in front of Boston City Hall and, with only one dissenting opinion, a death row inmate trying to touch a pastor in the Penitentiary.
Over the past few years, the court has also ruled that the Catholic Social Services Agency in Philadelphia may violate city rules and refuse to work with same-sex couples who say foster care should be Montana’s state program to support private schools include religious ones and that the Trump administration may allow religions. Having employers refuse to cover contraception for female workers.
Contrary to Monday’s ruling, Judge Sonia Sotomayor wrote that the majority stood in the way because the religious rights of a school official took precedence over those of students who had been pressured to participate in religious activities.
“By doing so,” he wrote, “the court is taking an even more dangerous path to force states to engage in religion, and all our rights are on the balance.”
The ruling was another illustration of how firm and conservative the Supreme Court Conservative majority made the term, following last week’s rulings explaining the constitutional right to abortion enshrined in Roe v. On Wade and recognized the right of the Second Amendment to carry arms outside. House for Defense.
Mr Kennedy said he was delighted with the decision.
“It’s just awesome,” he said in a statement. “All I ever wanted was to get back on the field with my boys.”
Rachel Laser, president of the United States for the Separation of Church and State, who represented the school board in the case, said she was concerned about the latest in a series of growing failures that are tearing down the wall between religion and the public sphere.
“Today, the court continued to attack the separation of church and state, forcibly describing forced prayer as ‘private’ and stopping public schools from protecting the religious freedom of their students,” he said in a statement.
Case, Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, no. 21-418, challenged the rights of state workers to freedom of speech and the free exercise of their beliefs in support of religion against the prohibition of the Constitution and the ability of public employers to regulate speech. In the workplace. The ruling was strained by decades of Supreme Court precedents banning pressure on students to participate in religious activities.
Mr. Kennedy served as a coaching assistant at Public High School in Bremerton, Washington, near Seattle. For eight years he regularly performed prayers after games, and students often joined him. He also supervised and participated in prayer dressing, a practice which he later abandoned and did not follow in the Supreme Court.
In 2015, after an opposing coach told Mr. Kennedy’s school principal that he thought it was “very cool” that Mr. Kennedy was allowed to pray in the field, the school board instructed Mr. Kennedy not to pray if that prevented him from doing so. His duties or the students involved. Both sides disagreed on whether Mr. Kennedy had obeyed.
A school official has recommended the coach extend his contract for the 2016 season and has not applied for the Mr. Kennedy position.
The majority and dissenting views offered completely different accounts of what had happened in Mr. Kennedy’s last months.
Justice Gorsuch wrote that Mr. Kennedy was trying to present only a short, silent, and solitary prayer. Justice Sotomayor replied that the public nature of his prayers and his example as a leader and role model meant that students were forced to participate, regardless of their religion and whether they wanted to or not.
Justice Gorsuch wrote that the coach, at least after the games discussed in the case, “prayed silently until his students were otherwise busy.”
Judge Sotomayor showed the facts differently, given the longer period.
“Kennedy constantly invited others to join his prayers, and for years he led student-athletes in prayer,” he wrote. In an unusual move, the controversy included photos showing Mr. Kennedy kneeling with players and others.
Justice Gorsuch wrote that Mr. Kennedy did not speak on behalf of the school when he prayed.
“He did not instruct the players, did not discuss the strategy, did not contribute to a better performance on the pitch or did not participate in any other performance given to him by the district as a coach,” wrote Justice Gorsuch.
Instead, he wrote that Mr. Kennedy devoted only one minute to prayer while others checked their text messages or greeted friends.
Everything school staff do during working hours is not official behavior, writes Justice Gorsuch. If that were the case, he said, “the school may dismiss a Muslim teacher for wearing a headscarf in class, or forbid a Christian assistant to pray quietly in the cafeteria over lunch.”
Chief Justice of Justice John G.. Roberts Jr. and Judges Clarence Thomas, Samuel A.. Alito Jr. and Amy Connie Barrett have joined the majority of Justice Gorsuch. Justice Brett M. Cavanaugh joined most of it.
For a dissenting opinion, Justice Sotomayor said Mr. Kennedy was in fact forcing students to pray with him.
“Students look to their teachers and coaches as role models and seek their approval,” he wrote. “Students are also dependent on this approval for tangible benefits. “Players are realizing that getting a coach’s approval can pay small and large dividends, from extra playing time to a stronger letter of recommendation ending with extra support for college sports recruitment.”
Justice Gorsuch replied that he rejected “the idea that the only acceptable example of a government for students is one that avoids any visible religious expression.”
In the process of Mr. Kennedy’s rule, the majority rejected the basic precedent for establishing the First Amendment, Lemon v. Kurtzman. This decision in 1971 established what became known as the Lemon Test, which asked courts to consider whether the disputed government practice had a secular purpose, whether its main effect was to promote or suppress religion, and to support excessive government. Touch with religion.
The lemon test has already been canceled in Justice Gorsuch’s report. But Justice Sotomayor wrote that the majority had now abolished it.
He admitted that the test was under frequent criticism from various members of the court. “The court is now going much further,” he wrote, “overcoming the lemon as a whole and in all contexts.”
Judges Stephen Breyer and Elena Cagan joined the Justice Sotomayor opposition.
For the past 60 years, the Supreme Court has rejected prayer in public schools, either when it was formally necessary or as part of a formal ceremony such as graduating from high school. As far back as 2000, a court found that organized prayers led by students at high school football games violated the First Amendment ban on the establishment of religion by the government.
“Delivering pre-game prayer has an adverse effect on forcing attendees to engage in religious worship,” wrote Justice John Paul Stevens for the majority in the case.
Justice Gorsuch wrote that these precedents did not apply to Mr. Kennedy’s conduct.
“The prayers for which Mr. Kennedy was disciplined were not publicly delivered or read in front of a captive audience,” he wrote. “Students were not required or expected to participate.”
Judge Gorsuch said the message of the decision in favor of Kennedy was direct.
“The Constitution and our best traditions,” he wrote, “advocate mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and repression of both religious and non-religious views.”