The Supreme Court supports the coach in prayer on the field after the matches

Washington (AFP) – Supreme Court Monday said that high school football coach They knelt and prayed in the stadium after games that were constitutionally protected, a decision opponents said would open the door to “more enforced prayer” in public schools.

The court ruled 6-3 To coach with conservative judges in the majority and liberals in opposition. This case was the latest in a series of judgments handed down to religious plaintiffs.

The case forced judges to wrestle with how to balance the religious rights and freedom of expression of teachers and coaches with the rights of students not to feel pressure to participate in religious practices. Liberal justices in the minority said there was evidence that Bremerton (Washington) high school coach Joseph Kennedy’s prayer at the 50-yard line had a coercive effect on students and allowed him to incorporate his “personal religious beliefs into a school event.”

Opposition judge Sonia Sotomayor wrote that the decision “puts us on a perilous path in forcing states into debt”.

But the judges in the majority asserted that the coach’s prayer came after the matches were over and at a time when he was not in charge of the students and was free to do other things.

The coach and his attorneys at First Liberty Institute, a Christian legal group, were among those cheering the decision. Kennedy said in an interview that his first reaction was pure joy.

“Just like in all football matches, I threw my arm, you know, ‘relegation’,” he said. He described the seven years since the feud began as difficult for his family but “definitely worth it.”

Judge Neil GorsuchWriting to the majority in ruling, he declared: “The Constitution and our best traditions advise mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and oppression, of religious and non-religious views alike.

Gorchuk noted that the coach “prayed during a period when school staff were free to talk to a friend, call a restaurant reservation, check e-mail, or take care of other personal matters” and “while his students were busy.”

He wrote that it would be a mistake to treat everything public school teachers and coaches say and do as government-controlled. If that’s the case, he wrote, “a teacher can class a Muslim teacher for wearing a headscarf in the classroom or prevent a Christian helper from praying quietly over lunch in the cafeteria.”

And he concluded, “Respect for religious expressions is indispensable to life in a free and diverse republic—whether those expressions occur in a sacred place or in a square, and whether they manifest themselves through the spoken word or a bowed head.”

The decision continues a pattern in which the court has ruled in favor of religious plaintiffs. Last week, the court ruled that Maine cannot exclude religious schools of a program that provides educational assistance for special education, a decision that could facilitate access to taxpayer money for religious organizations.

In dissent, Sotomayor wrote on Monday that players “recognize that having coach approval may pay dividends small and large, from extra playing time to a stronger letter of recommendation to additional support in recruiting college athletes.” “Some students reported joining Kennedy’s Prayer because they felt social pressure to follow their coach and teammates,” she said.

Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan joined Sotomayor in her opposition.

Paul Clement, an attorney who discussed the case on Kennedy’s behalf, said in a statement that the decision would allow the coach to “finally return to where he belongs – football training and quietly praying by himself after the game.”

Kennedy now lives in Florida, and it wasn’t clear when — or if — he might return across the country to Washington State for a part-time job that paid him less than $5,000. In the interview, he said he was in Florida to help his father-in-law, but his family was still in Washington and he had no intention of staying in Florida permanently. He said his attorneys and the school district would need to sort things out so he could return to training.

He began training at the school in 2008 and was initially men’s alone on the 50-yard line at the end of games. Students began to join him, and over time he began to give short, inspiring conversations with religious references. Kennedy did this for years and also led students in locker room prayers. The school district learned what he was doing in 2015 and asked him to stop worrying that the district might be sued for violating students’ religious freedom rights.

He stopped leading the students to pray in the locker room and on the field, but wanted to continue kneeling and praying on the field by himself after the matches. The school asked him not to do this while “serving” as a coach after matches. When he completed, the school put him on paid leave. The team’s head coach later recommended that he not be reassigned because, among other things, he failed to follow district policy.

In a statement, the Bremerton School District and its attorneys at American United for Separation of Church and State said the decision undermines the separation required by the Constitution. The school district said in a statement that it “followed the law and worked to protect the religious freedom of all students and their families.”

Rachel Laser, president of American United, said the decision “opens the door to more forced prayer in our public schools” and undermines students’ religious freedom.

The school district’s attorney, Richard Katsky, said it is studying the decision and considering its next steps.

Three justices on the court—Bryer, Kagan, and Justice Samuel Alito—enrolled in public high schools, while the other six attended Catholic schools.

The case is Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, 21-418.

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