In oral arguments this morning, Supreme Court Conservatives appeared to side with a Bremerton, WA football coach who lost his job after insisting on praying at the 50-yard line despite the school’s efforts to stop him.
After nearly two hours of argument, the majority seemed prepared to rule the coach, Joseph Kennedy, was exercising his private religious views and not breaching the Constitutional wall between church and state.
The case is complicated by two sets of facts.
Kennedy says he was praying quietly, while the Bremerton high school district says he made a “spectacle of himself” at the 9th-yard line and implicitly coerced his team to pray with him.
NBC News reported, “Kennedy became an assistant varsity coach at Bremerton High School in 2008 and later began offering a brief prayer on the field after games ended and the players and coaches met midfield to shake hands.
“The school district eventually told him he should find a private location for praying, but he declined and continued his practice of dropping to one knee and praying silently on the 50-yard line.
“…The school district said his prayer was anything but private. He announced his plans to continue praying and invited journalists and a state legislator to watch. The district gave him a poor performance evaluation, and he did not apply to renew his contract after the2015 football season,” NBC reported.
“He chose to publicize his prayer, and he got down on one knee on the 50-yard line,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor told the Court.
Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. asked whether Kennedy could have prayed aloud while standing with his arms outstretched.
Justice Samuel Alito Jr. asked whether Kennedy would have been fired for protesting the invasion of Ukraine, climate change, or racial injustice.
Attorneys for the school district failed to argue that protesting the invasion of Ukraine, climate change, or racial injustice is not an exercise in religious freedom.
Justices Question 9th Circuit Decision
“The tenor of the questioning from the court’s conservative members was unsurprising,” The New York Times Adam Liptak reported, as four of them had issued a statement questioning a preliminary ruling in favor of the [school] officials from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco.
“The Ninth Circuit’s understanding of the free speech rights of public-school teachers is troubling and may justify review in the future,” Justice Alito wrote at the time. Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas joined him,” Liptak reported.
The case is Kennedy v. Bremerton School District.
The First Amendment case is based on the historic 1962 Supreme Court case Engel v. Vitale, prohibiting teachers from starting class with The Lord’s Prayer, even before pupils stood and recited the Pledge of Allegiance.
Christians proselytizing through coaches and athletes has been going on for a long time. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes has been around since the 1950s, but this practice predates that organization. For a history of this, see “Why We Fight About Football Prayers”, https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2022/april-web-only/scouts-football-prayers-kennedy-bremerton-first-amendment.html
Supreme Court reporter Ian Millhiser explains, “The religious right had a great day in the Supreme Court”, https://www.vox.com/2022/4/25/23040923/supreme-court-kennedy-bremerton-religion-praying-coach-school-football
The best-case scenario for supporters of church/state separation, after the Supreme Court’s oral argument in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District on Monday, is that the justices leave in place a rule which prohibits public schools from actively coercing students into participating in a religious exercise that they find objectionable.
The worst case, although probably not a particularly likely one, is that the justices give school officials free rein to pressure students into embracing those officials’ religious beliefs.
Most likely, the Court will leave in place some of the current rules against schools actively pressuring their students into religious behavior, while also taking a huge bite out of the Constitution’s establishment clause, which has historically prohibited the government from promoting or discouraging a certain religious view.
A majority of the justices seemed eager to shrink this constitutional provision significantly, though it is unclear just how much they will reduce it. At the very least, it appears likely that public school teachers, coaches, and other school officials will gain some ability to subtly pressure students into religious activity that students, or their parents, may find objectionable.
[But, while the Court is likely to leave at least some safeguards against religious coercion in place, it’s also likely to diminish those safeguards in order to rule in favor of Coach Kennedy. That wouldn’t necessarily allow someone like Kennedy to explicitly tell students that they must pray with him if they want to play in the next game, but such threats don’t need to be explicit in order to pressure students into complying with a coach’s implied wishes.
[U]ltimately, in other words, the Court appears very likely to cut back on the establishment clause — although it remains to be seen how deep the cut will be.
Beautiful quote, Max Perkins.
Would like to watch Inherit the Wind again.
Book of Matthew. “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
This case is about grandstanding and forced piety, not sincerely held religious beliefs.
Shorter Book of Matthew: “Wear your faith in your heart, not on your sleeve”. Same goes for patriotism.
Religion is often used as a tool to oppresss.
As Napoleon said “Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich”.
Though the Hundred Years War took place in the late 14th to early 15th centuries and the Thirty Years War took place during the early to mid-17th century, at their cores they were horrific religious wars that devastated medieval and Renaissance Europe. Though both conflicts occurred centuries/a century before most of our founding fathers were born, both events were much closer to their historical perspectives than say, World War One’s historical prospective is closer to the Millenials and Gen Xers of today.
In their wisdom the nation’s founding fathers were well aware of the consequences of both conflicts and decided there was no way they wanted that sort of religious conflict crap over here. Which gave rise to the First Amendment prohibiting the establishment of a State Religion. So naturally, in their pursuit of absolute power America’s Christianists are doing their damnedest to tear all that down with nary a concern of the effects on those who are not like them. And they wonder why Christianity, in all it’s forms, are losing adherents and not appealing to potential new ones.
But, as I’ve said before, I don’t get cable or satellite TV so what do I know?