The Supreme Court recently sided with prayer in its decision to uphold a former public high school football coach’s right to religious freedom of expression. The Christian coach had endured significant suffering, as well as suspension from his job, for his refusal to cease leading prayers with football players after the games had completed.
Joseph Kennedy, who worked in the public school system in Washington State until 2015, enjoyed a 6-3 victory. The six conservative justices voted in favor of Kennedy’s right to religious expression, while the most liberal judges dissented.
Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the Court’s final judgment, wherein he rejected the claims of the local school district about mixing prayer and a public school setting. The school district claimed that Kennedy’s behavior could be considered coercive, or possibly even a governmental endorsement of a specific religion.
The Bremerton school district also argued that Kennedy was making a so-called “spectacle” out of praying.
However, the Supreme Court held that the public school district had in fact violated Kennedy’s own right to religious expression under the First Amendment, a right that the school attempted to deny to the part-time football coach.
“Respect for religious expressions is indispensable to life in a free and diverse republic,” Gorsuch wrote, “whether those expressions take place in a sanctuary or on a field, and whether they manifest through the spoken word or a bowed head.”
The ruling of the Supreme Court superseded the ruling of a lower court, which resulted in Kennedy’s suspension after he refused to acquiesce to school officials’ demand for him to stop praying after the games.
Gorsuch also added that the “reprisal” of the school district against Kennedy “rested on a mistaken view that it had a duty to ferret out and suppress religious observances even as it allows comparable secular speech.”
“The Constitution neither mandates nor tolerates that kind of discrimination,” Gorsuch said assertively.
One of the main dissenting judges, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, asserted that the Supreme Court was allegedly giving the “short shrift” to the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment, which holds for the separation of church and state.
Kennedy is an alma mater of the Bremerton school district, and he served as a coach from 2008 to 2015. He has since relocated to Florida, though he would contemplate returning if he could receive his wrongfully lost job once again.
Kennedy’s long-term struggle has transformed him into an admirable role model for various Christian activists.