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SCOTUS Sides With High School Football Coach Barred From Praying on Field After Games


The U.S. Supreme Court has sided with a high school football coach in a First Amendment case about prayer at the 50-yard-line.

In a 6-3 ruling, SCOTUS says the public school district violated the coach’s free speech and free exercise rights when it barred him from praying on the field after games.

The common-sense decision scores a victory for freedom of speech and religious expression in public schools.

Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion and noted, “The Constitution and the best of our traditions counsel mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and suppression, for religious and nonreligious views alike.”

The majority also said it was abandoning the Lemon test and its “endorsement test offshoot” to evaluate establishment clause questions.

ABA Journal wrote:

The Supreme Court ruled in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, which considered whether the Bremerton School District near Seattle violated the First Amendment rights of the assistant coach, Joseph A. Kennedy.

The coach had defied the public school’s orders to stop praying with students at the 50-yard line after games. The school put Kennedy on administrative leave and did not renew his contract the next season.

The Lemon test, derived from the 1971 Supreme Court ruling Lemon v. Kurtzman, initially said government action doesn’t violate the establishment clause when it has a significant secular or nonreligious purpose, does not have the primary effect of advancing or inhibiting religion, and doesn’t foster excessive entanglement between government and religion.

Some courts have used an endorsement analysis, based on a 1984 concurrence by then-Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. She argued that the purpose prong of the test asks whether the government purpose is to endorse or disapprove of religion.

The school district was represented by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a nonprofit organization. Kennedy was represented by the First Liberty Institute, a religious legal group.

Read the opinion for Kennedy v. Bremerton School District HERE.

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