The U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority continues to shift our country back to its constitutional founding and roots with another ruling on Monday in support of the First Amendment.
In a 6-3 opinion, justices ruled in favor of a Washington high school football coach who was fired for praying at midfield following games.
“At issue was whether a public school employee praying alone but in view of students was engaging in unprotected ‘government speech,’ and if it is not government speech, does it still pose a problem under the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause,” Fox News reported, adding: “The Supreme Court ruled Monday that the answer to both questions is no.”
The outlet notes further:
Joe Kennedy was a junior varsity head coach and varsity assistant coach with the Bremerton School District in Washington from 2008 to 2015. He began the practice of reciting a post-game prayer by himself, but eventually students started joining him.
According to court documents, this evolved into motivational speeches that included religious themes. After an opposing coach brought it to the principal’s attention, the school district told Kennedy to stop. He did, temporarily, then notified the school that he would resume the practice.
The situation garnered media attention, and when Kennedy announced that he would go back to praying on the field, it raised security concerns. When he did pray after the game, a number of people stormed the field in support.
The district offered to allow Kennedy to pray in a different location before or after games, or allow him to do so on the 50-year-line after everyone had left the stadium premises, but he refused that offer. After two more games, the school district placed him on leave.
“Here, a government entity sought to punish an individual for engaging in a brief, quiet, personal religious observance doubly protected by the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment. And the only meaningful justification the government offered for its reprisal rested on a mistaken view that it had a duty to ferret out and suppress,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the Court’s opinion.
“Religious observances even as it allows comparable secular speech. The Constitution neither mandates nor tolerates that kind of discrimination,” he added.
During oral arguments earlier this year, Justice Clarence Thomas questioned how Kennedy’s praying could be considered government-sanctioned speech since he was not mandating that students join him nor was he following any prescribed school policy.
Kennedy’s attorney Paul Clement argued before the court that firing Kennedy was a clear constitutional violation because not only was his client engaged in private – not government – speech, but that the school was “taking action precisely because the speech is religious.”
In January, Kelly Shackelford, president of First Liberty, which represented Kennedy, said, “No teacher or coach should lose their job for simply expressing their faith while in public.”
“By taking this important case, the Supreme Court can protect the right of every American to engage in private religious expression, including praying in public, without fear of punishment,” Shackelford added in a statement.
“We look forward to presenting the coach’s case, which goes to the heart of the First Amendment, to the Justices,” Clement, a former US Solicitor General, noted then.