Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Be Careful What You Pray For

I’m not at all surprised that the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that it was okay for a coach to lead a Jesus prayer circle on the fifty-yard line of a public high school football field after a game.

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that a school board in Washington state discriminated against a former football coach when it disciplined him for postgame prayers at midfield, the high court’s latest decision favoring the protection of religious faith over concerns about government endorsement of religion.

Justice Neil M. Gorsuch wrote for fellow conservatives in the 6-to-3 decision, saying Bremerton High School assistant coach Joseph Kennedy’s prayers are protected by the Constitution’s guarantees of free speech and religious exercise. He said the school board’s discipline of Kennedy was unwarranted, even under the concern of violating the separation of church and state.

“Respect for religious expressions is indispensable to life in a free and diverse Republic — whether those expressions take place in a sanctuary or on a field, and whether they manifest through the spoken word or a bowed head,” Gorsuch wrote. “Here, a government entity sought to punish an individual for engaging in a brief, quiet, personal religious observance doubly protected” by the Constitution.

Gorsuch was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Amy Coney Barrett. Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh joined most of the opinion.

The court’s three liberals dissented, as they had in last week’s ruling that Maine cannot bar religious schools from receiving public tuition grants extended to other private schools.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that the majority “elevates one individual’s interest in personal religious exercise, in the exact time and place of that individual’s choosing, over society’s interest in protecting the separation between church and state, eroding the protections for religious liberty for all.”

Joined by Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Elena Kagan, Sotomayor added: “Today’s decision is particularly misguided because it elevates the religious rights of a school official, who voluntarily accepted public employment and the limits that public employment entails, 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.”

I would like to see what would have happened if the coach was a Muslim and put down a prayer rug and faced Mecca. Or if he had stood in the middle of the field and chanted from the Torah. Or even brought out a folding chair and sat in silence as Quakers do. Let’s see what happens when the Satanists or the Wiccans get together on the field.

I can’t prove it, but I’m pretty sure the ruling would have gone the other way.

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