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Supreme Court Sides With Coach Over Prayers on 50-Yard Line


WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that a highschool football coach had a constitutional right to wish on the 50-yard line after his team’s games.

The vote was 6 to three, with the court’s three liberal members in dissent.

The case pitted the rights of presidency employees to free speech and the free exercise of their faith against the Structure’s prohibition of presidency endorsement of faith and the power of public employers to control speech within the workplace. The choice was in tension with a long time of Supreme Court precedents that forbade pressuring students to take part in religious activities.

The case concerned Joseph Kennedy, an assistant coach at a public highschool in Bremerton, Wash., near Seattle. For eight years, Mr. Kennedy routinely offered prayers after games, with students often joining him. He also led and took part in prayers within the locker room, a practice he later abandoned and didn’t defend within the Supreme Court.

In 2015, after an opposing coach told the principal at Mr. Kennedy’s school that he thought it was “pretty cool” that Mr. Kennedy was allowed to wish on the sector, the college board instructed Mr. Kennedy not to wish if it interfered together with his duties or involved students. The 2 sides disagreed about whether Mr. Kennedy complied.

A faculty official really useful that the coach’s contract not be renewed for the 2016 season, and Mr. Kennedy didn’t reapply for the position.

The 2 sides offered starkly different accounts of what had happened in Mr. Kennedy’s final months, complicating the Supreme Court’s task. Mr. Kennedy said he sought only to supply a transient, silent and solitary prayer little different from saying grace before a meal in the college cafeteria. The varsity board responded that the general public nature of his prayers and his stature as a pacesetter and role model meant that students felt forced to participate, whatever their religion and whether or not they desired to or not.

During the last 60 years, the Supreme Court has rejected prayer in public schools, at the very least when it was officially required or a part of a proper ceremony like a highschool graduation. As recently as 2000, the court ruled that organized prayers led by students at highschool football games violated the First Amendment’s prohibition of presidency establishment of faith.

“The delivery of a pregame prayer has the improper effect of coercing those present to take part in an act of non secular worship,” Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for almost all.

Mr. Kennedy’s lawyers said those school prayer precedents weren’t relevant because they involved government speech. The core query in Mr. Kennedy’s case, they said, was whether government employees hand over their very own rights to free speech and the free exercise of faith on the workplace.

The varsity district, its lawyers responded, was entitled to require Mr. Kennedy to stop praying as he had. “No matter whether Kennedy’s very public speech was official, the district could regulate it,” the college district’s Supreme Court transient said. “His prayer practice wrested control from the district over the district’s own events, interfered with students’ religious freedom and subjected the district to substantial litigation risks.”

The varsity district noted that a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, had criticized what he called “a deceitful narrative” created by Mr. Kennedy’s lawyers.

Mr. Kennedy was never disciplined for offering silent, private prayers, the judge, Milan D. Smith Jr., wrote last 12 months. As a substitute, the judge wrote of 1 game, Mr. Kennedy “prayed out loud in the course of the football field” just after it finished, “surrounded by players, members of the opposing team, parents, an area politician and members of the news media with television cameras recording the event, all of whom had been advised of Kennedy’s intended actions through the local news and social media.”

When the Supreme Court refused to listen to an earlier appeal within the case in 2019, 4 justices expressed qualms about how Mr. Kennedy had been treated.

“The Ninth Circuit’s understanding of the free speech rights of public-school teachers is troubling and will justify review in the longer term,” Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote on the time, adding that the justices should wait for more details about “necessary unresolved factual questions.” He was joined by Justices Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas.

After further proceedings, the Ninth Circuit again ruled for the college board. This time, the Supreme Court agreed to listen to the case, Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, No. 21-418.

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