By Ethan Huff
The Supreme Court of the United States is on a roll lately. One of its latest landmark decisions involves a public school football coach whose First Amendment rights were trampled on by his district, resulting in his firing.
In another 6-3 ruling – SCOTUS issued two other 6-3 decisions recently, including one defending the Second Amendment and another striking down Roe v. Wade – the Supreme Court decided that Joe Kennedy had every right to pray over his team and the fans on game day.
Kennedy, who coached both junior varsity (head coach) and varsity (assistant coach) football within Washington’s Bremerton School District, was notorious for his prayers and speeches. It started out as just him doing it by himself, and eventually students starting joining him of their own accord.
Court documents reveal that Kennedy’s prayers evolved into motivation speeches with religious themes. An opposing team, offended by this, brought the matter to the principal’s attention. This prompted a reprimand from administration officials ordering him to stop.
Kennedy obeyed them for a little while, but later announced that he was going to continue praying and speaking regardless of what anyone thought about it. The conflict continued to stew until eventually the media caught wind of it, causing it to go viral.
“The situation garnered media attention, and when Kennedy announced that he would go back to praying on the field, it raised security concerns,” reported Fox News. “When he did pray after the game, a number of people stormed the field in support.”
“The school district then offered to let Kennedy pray in other locations before and after games, or for him to pray on the 50-yard line after everyone else had left the premises, but he refused, insisting that he would continue his regular practice. After continuing the prayers at two more games, the school district placed Kennedy on leave.”
The First Amendment is non-negotiable
The school district’s argument against Kennedy was that if he was allowed to continue, as an employee, to pray on the field at football games, this would violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Claus, which creates a separation between church and state. SCOTUS disagrees.
“That reasoning was misguided,” the majority opinion said.
“Both the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment protect expressions like Mr. Kennedy’s. Nor does a proper understanding of the Amendment’s Establishment Clause require the government to single out private religious speech for special disfavor.”
In his own opinion, Justice Neil Gorsuch stated that the issue of prayer at school goes beyond just the Constitution, representing “the best of our traditions.” He further called for “mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and suppression, for religious and nonreligious views alike.”
The ruling itself states that there is a reason why speech like Kennedy’s is protected by both the First Amendment and the Free Exercise Clauses. It is this very thing, in other words, for which free speech rights exist.
“That the First Amendment doubly protects religious speech is no accident,” Gorsuch wrote. “It is a natural outgrowth of the framers’ distrust of government attempts to regulate religion and suppress dissent.”
Even though Kennedy worked at a public school, his free speech does not represent “government speech,” the court further ruled. Kennedy’s words were in no way “pursuant to a government policy,” nor was he “seeking to convey a government-created message.”
When Kennedy spoke, the ruling clarified, it was after the game was over, which means it was outside of his normal scope of duties as a school employee. In other words, he was doing it on his own time of his own volition, and thus had every right to do it without interference.
More related news about free speech can be found at FirstAmendment.news.
Sources for this article include: