The U. S. Supreme Court delivered its second decision in a week upholding religious freedom by siding with high school football coach Joseph Kennedy in finding his post-game, voluntary prayer did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
The vindication ended a seven-year ordeal for the Bremerton, Washington coach, who was fired from his position (while remaining with the school) in 2015 for ignoring his school board’s demand that he cease his 50-yard-line prayer, first by himself, but that eventually attracted several post-game fans.
Justice Neil Gorsuch authored the 6-3 decision, joined by the five other conservatives on the bench. Dissenting were Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. In his opinion, Gorsuch wrote:
“Both the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment protect expressions like Mr. Kennedy’s. Nor does a proper understanding of the Amendment’s Establishment Clause require the government to single out private religious speech for special disfavor. The Constitution and the best of our traditions counsel mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and suppression, for religious and nonreligious views alike.”
Last week, the Court’s six conservatives found the State of Maine violated the First Amendment by denying parents tuition assistance available to the state’s rural residents not living within school districts to send their children to religious schools.
In an op-ed after his victory was secured, Kennedy wrote he’s always been a fighter:
“Though I never would’ve thought I’d end up in front of the Supreme Court, I’m glad I stayed in the fight. I suppose fighting is just a part of who I am,” wrote Kennedy, who served in the Marine Corps for nearly two decades and started coaching at the school in 2008. “Every American deserves someone to fight for them, for their freedom, and I was proud to do so.”
Area religious freedom leaders hailed the decision. Brittany Jones is with Kansas Family Voice:
“The Court affirmed the religious freedom and freedom of speech that all Americans have, putting the nail in the coffin of the 1970s distorted version of the First Amendment. Protecting Coach Kennedy protects freedom for all of us. We are thankful for today’s decision and what it means for all Kansans. There is still more that we can do in Kansas to ensure that these protections continue. We will be working with legislators to ensure these laws get passed.”