By Aryal Aglugub
WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Supreme Court, ruling in Kennedy v, Bremerton School District, diminished the already fine line of the separation of church and state in public schools in a decision this past week.
SCOTUS agreed that the coach of the football team has the right to pray after games on the 50-yard-line with his players.
The plaintiff and former football coach, Joseph Kennedy, was put on administrative leave after continuing to lead his team in mid-field prayers, even after the Bremerton School District in Washington State told him to stop. The school found that Kennedy’s actions were a violation to the students’ religious freedom right.
There was also an aspect of public safety violations in that Kennedy invited the media, and politicians to attend. Kennedy sued the school district and claims that their actions were a violation of his free-speech and free-exercise rights.
The American Civil Liberties Union, and the ACLU of Washington argued against Kennedy. Both organizations filed an amicus brief in the case, claiming that the prayers that Kennedy initiated were done while on his job, and does not fall under the protection of Free Speech Clause.
They also maintain the opinion that the school district has the constitutional duty to ban his actions, which clearly violates the separation of church and state.
The SCOTUS dissent explains the “decision is particularly misguided because it elevates the religious rights of a school official… over those of his students, who are required to attend school and who this Court has long recognized are particularly vulnerable and deserving of protection.”
The director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, Daniel March said:
“This decision is deeply disappointing and undermines the religious liberty of public school students. As the Supreme Court recognized over 60 years ago, it’s inherently coercive for school officials to pray with students while on duty.”
March added the “ruling ignores that basic principle and tramples the religious freedom of students who may not share the preferred faith of their coaches and teachers.”
Senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Washington, Taryn Darling, stated, “The freedom to hold beliefs that differ from those with authority has been a founding principle of our country. It is disappointing that today’s decision erodes protections for public school students to learn and grow free of coercion.”
Darling argued, “Kitsap Country is a religiously diverse community and students reported that they felt coerced to pray. One player explained he participated against his own beliefs for the fear of losing playing time if he declined. This decision strains the separation of church and state—a bedrock principle of our democracy—and potentially harms our youth.”