The Supreme Court recently ruled, 6-3, along party lines in favor of a public school football coach who lost his job after kneeling and praying on the field. The Bremerton School District, when it learned of the prayers, told former assistant coach Joseph Kennedy to stop as it could be seen as a state endorsement of religion.
Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, writing for the majority, characterized Kennedy’s prayers as “brief, quiet, personal religious observance,” arguing that such “private speech” is protected by the First Amendment. “The Constitution and the best of our traditions counsel mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and suppression for religious and nonreligious views alike,” Gorsuch said.
The court weighed the right to free speech with the students’ right not to feel pressured into participating in the prayers. Kennedy’s prayers at the 50-yard line on the field were coercive, according to Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for the dissent, who argued that the coach violated the so-called Establishment Clause in the First Amendment.