In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court affirmed Coach Kennedy’s right to silently pray in public after high school football games in Kennedy v. Bremerton School Board.
Joe Kennedy coached high school football at the Bremerton School District in Washington State and regularly prayed by himself at the 50-yard line following games. More and more students and coaches from other teams joined as time went on. After nearly half the team began to join Coach Kennedy in prayer, the school suddenly told him that he could no longer pray publicly.
Kennedy believed it violated his freedoms of speech and religion and began praying again – a decision that eventually cost him his job.
FHA signed onto an amicus brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in order to support Coach Kennedy and urge the court to protect religious freedom.
Thankfully, the brief was successful, and the high court upheld every American’s right to freely live out their faith in public.
“The Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment protect an individual engaging in a personal religious observance from government reprisal,” wrote Justice Neil Gorsuch in the 6-3 majority opinion, adding that the Constitution “neither mandates nor permits the government to suppress such religious expression.”
The court rejected the school district’s argument that the coach’s prayers were “coercive” of the players. The decision also corrects the widespread misconception that religious speech and actions must be suppressed to avoid the First Amendment’s ban on the “establishment of religion.”
“Both the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment protect expressions like Mr. Kennedy’s,” Gorsuch wrote in the majority opinion. “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.”
As high court claims, our Constitution does not require us to abandon our religious traditions and the Establishment Clause does not require schools to fire a coach like Joseph Kennedy.
“Today, the Supreme Court reaffirmed a long-standing principle, correctly ruling that teachers and other school employees do not surrender their First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse gate,” Sarah Parshall Perry, a senior legal fellow for The Heritage Foundation, said in a statement.
This is a monumental victory for religious freedom throughout the United States.
This decision will protect teachers who bow their heads to give thanks during lunch in the cafeteria, or school employees who wear a cross or religious symbol, as the opinion specifically mentions.
This is a critical protection that will not only help preserve a free and diverse society, but uphold human dignity, which is inseparable from the freedom to express one’s deeply held beliefs.