The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday in favor of a high school football coach who was placed on leave for praying on the 50-yard line after games. The former high school coach, Joe Kennedy, prayed midfield after games and players who wanted to participate would join him.
The 6-to-3 decision found that “the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment protect expressions like Mr. Kennedy’s.” The Supreme Court’s decision didn’t agree with the lower courts’ finding that the coach’s prayers would be perceived as a school endorsement of religion.
“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. Mr. Kennedy is entitled to summary judgment on his religious exercise and free speech claims,” Gorsuch wrote.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor said of the midfield prayers that they were neither private speech, nor benign. She added in the dissent, “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.”
School administrators had asked the football coach to stop praying on the field after games
The case started after Kennedy sued the school district in Bremerton, Washington. He claimed his right to free speech and the free exercise of religion were violated. Back in 2015 school administrators had asked the football coach to stop praying on the field.
After agreeing to do so, Kennedy changed his mind and resumed his postgame prayers. He then made several media appearances to talk about his postgame prayers. The added attention led to a wild scene at the homecoming game, where things got out of hand..
A lot of supporters showed up to the game, as did Satan worshippers from Seattle. After the game the supporters rushed the field to pray on the field with Kennedy. As they did so members of the band and cheerleaders were knocked down. TV cameras were there as well as a state legislator who joined the group as they knelt and prayed.
The school wanted a less public demonstration from Kennedy as they felt that the school would be seen as endorsing religion. He refused to stop his praying on the field and the superintendent placed the football coach on paid administrative leave. He did not apply for a contract with the school the following year and sued the school district.