Supreme Court takes up case of a coach and his prayers on 50-yard line

cigaretteman

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May 29, 2001
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Almost everyone agrees it should not require two trips to the U.S. Supreme Court to settle the case of a high school football coach who wants to pray at the 50-yard line.
Maybe former Bremerton High School assistant coach Joseph Kennedy could have conceded that his postgame prayer of gratitude could take place somewhere other than midfield, or discouraged what one judge called a “spectacle” of stampeding supporters and politicians who rushed after one game to kneel beside him on the gridiron.

Maybe the school district could have offered an accommodation that didn’t require Kennedy to climb to the stadium press box, or retreat to a janitor’s office in the school, to offer his prayer. Instead, it prohibited him from any “demonstrative religious activity” that is “readily observable to (if not intended to be observed by) students and the attending public.”







Nonetheless, Kennedy v. Bremerton School District arrives before the justices Monday. It brings vexing questions about the ability of public employees to live out their faith while on duty and the government’s competing responsibility to protect schoolchildren from coercion and to remain neutral on the subject of religion.
The case offers a court that has recently been overwhelmingly protective of religious rights the chance to transform decades of Supreme Court jurisprudence that started 60 years ago with the admonition that government cannot organize and promote prayer in public schools.
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Four justices sympathized with Kennedy a couple of years ago when the case first reached the Supreme Court, but it was deemed premature for consideration. Now, it pits red states against blue ones, some professional football players against others, divides constitutional experts and has drawn more attention — 57 friend-of-the-court briefs — than any case at the Supreme Court this term, except for the controversies over abortion and gun control.



It also split the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, where a slim majority of judges ruled for the school district. They cited Supreme Court precedent that limits the speech rights of on-duty public employees, and said the district was warranted in worrying that allowing Kennedy’s public prayer would violate the constitution’s prohibition on government endorsement of religion.
That ruling was denounced in a filing by 24 Republican U.S. senators and 32 representatives.
“The Ninth Circuit’s reasoning weaponizes the Establishment Clause, concluding that it requires a school to root out any religious expression by its employees — even to fire teachers, coaches, and staff who will not leave their faith at home,” the brief states. “If left uncorrected, this ruling threatens religious liberty … for all public employees.”











Those supporting the school district say that Kennedy has radically recast the events that led to his dismissal and that his actions during the 2015 football season were hardly private acts of faith. His Facebook post — “I think I just might have been fired for praying” — drew national attention and elicited support from prominent advocates, including former president Donald Trump and Fox News pundits.
But the district’s supporters say Kennedy’s rights are no more important than those of students and parents who do not want to mix religion and school instruction.
Kennedy seeks to characterize the school district’s “concern for the religious freedom and equality of its students as nothing more than hostility to his own religious practice — a move that turns on its head decades of well-reasoned school prayer jurisprudence,” said a brief filed by 11 law professors who identify themselves as “church-state scholars.”


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“It does not reflect religious hostility, but instead vindicates religious equality, for a school to require that its employees avoid coercing or compelling students (even subtly) to adopt favored religious beliefs or practices.”
Kennedy and his wife — in a town where everyone seems connected, she is the former human relations supervisor for the school district he sued — have moved to Florida to care for her ailing father.
He returned to Bremerton last month to show reporters around his blue-collar hometown of about 40,000. Seattle is a ferry ride away across the Puget Sound, and the outline of the Olympic mountain range is visible from the home-team side of the stadium where the BHS Knights play.

“It never should have been a big thing,” Kennedy said as he greeted former students on the stadium track. “It was supposed to be me and God, that’s it.” Asked if God cares where he prays, Kennedy said: “I don’t think he cares either way. But that was my covenant. So I do.”

More at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/04/21/supreme-court-praying-football-coach/
 

FAUlty Gator

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Oct 27, 2017
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I wonder if Engle v. Vitale will be used as a precedent. Where Hugo Black ruled that allowing prayer in public school made those not affiliated with the prayer's religion feel like outsiders and therefore was guilty of breaking the establishment clause.
 

Aardvark86

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Jan 23, 2018
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Had the oral argument playing in the background this morning. Like listening to a ball game or crop report. My takes:
1. The questioning of each side's counsel was mostly "led" by the "opposing" justices, so I suppose that portends a result that is likely to be along perceived partisan lines. Particularly with the case having come out of the 9th circuit, and in a term where the current reversal rate is over 90% (!).
2. That said, all of the justices seemed to be genuinely wrestling with some hard questions, using hypotheticals that didn't actually involve the facts at issue.
3. Speaking of facts at issue, the more I've read/heard about the case, the more it seems like the factual record below was a real mess. Curiously, I think most of the justices seemed to get that the facts, as the coach described them, should lead to a victory for the coach. But it seemed like there were plenty of facts in the record that just presented a much more ambiguous picture of what happened. Usually scotus is pretty careful about picking cases where the factual scenario is acutely defined to present an issue.
4. Really really good advocacy by counsel - Clement for the coach, Katskee for the district.
 
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HawkeyeShawn

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Nov 9, 2001
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At our public HS, the football team takes a knee in the end zone for a pregame prayer. The boys varsity basketball team also says a pregame prayer before each game. It’s not led by the HC though. One of the local pastors also serves as the team bus driver, so he traditionally leads the prayer.
 

BioHawk

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Sep 21, 2005
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An issue that has a simple solution that got blown completely out of proportion because of politics. As long as other faiths are not being prevented from doing this and nobody is being forced to join the prayer there shouldn't be an issue with it.
 

Aardvark86

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Jan 23, 2018
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An issue that has a simple solution that got blown completely out of proportion because of politics. As long as other faiths are not being prevented from doing this and nobody is being forced to join the prayer there shouldn't be an issue with it.
yeah, the problem is that a lot of these "sexy" religion and first amendment cases are really ginned up by advocacy organizations on both sides of the aisle, in a way that makes one wonder whether they actually involve real disputes. this coach lives in florida now (and for six years), but has claimed that he'll be on the first plane back to bremerton if he gets reinstated to his high school coaching job. Yeah right.
 

soybean

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Sep 30, 2001
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“In his pride the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God.”
 

cigaretteman

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May 29, 2001
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And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
 

soybean

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Sep 30, 2001
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And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
That one always resonates with me.
 

InsaneHawkJJP

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Apr 1, 2013
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If the guy is this devout, maybe he should have found a private religious school to coach at. Why is there no common sense anymore? He sounds like a complete jackass, good riddance!
 

MWardT

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Jul 29, 2005
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If we take Christianity out of the case and insert any other religion it seems pretty clear to me where most people would stand on this issue.
 
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