On June 27, the Supreme Court ruled that a high school football coach’s prayers at a public school were protected free speech. This ruling is a blatant attempt by six member so of the court to inflict a certain political and religious agenda on the rest of the country. It erodes the separation of church and state in public schools.
What happened in this case? Joseph Kennedy, a high school football coach in Washington State, prayed with his team on the field at a game. The school superintendent told Kennedy that actively inviting (i.e. coercing) players to join him in Christian prayer on the 50-yard-line was a violation of school policy — and the Constitution’s Establishment Clause.
Kennedy refused to stop the prayers, and was placed on administrative leave. He sued the school district and went to the media, bringing national attention to the situation. As a result, the high school football team members found themselves in the spotlight, where they were essentially forced to pray or face the consequences of non-participation.
Writing for a 6-3 majority, Justice Neil Gorsuch described Kennedy’s proselytizing on government property during a public-school function as “private,” “personal” and “quiet.”
It was none of the above. Rather, the coach’s religious display was public, vocal and coercive; as players and community members testified at subsequent hearings, participation was “expected.” This left at least one atheist team member feeling “uncomfortable and unsafe” as, at one point, more than 500 people ran down onto the field to join in Kennedy’s prayers.
What does this mean moving forward? This ruling opens the door for staff at public schools to push their own faith on students, and is a step toward turning public schools into places where students can be indoctrinated. This ruling also exacerbates the risk that religious minorities already face, including exclusion, bullying, threats, physical harm and erasure.