The Supreme Court handed down a huge victory to a former Washington high school football coach who lost his job over reciting a prayer on the 50-yard line after games.
The court reportedly voted 6-3 in the coach’s favor. Citing that his prayer was protected by the country’s First Amendment rights.
“Here, a government entity sought to punish an individual for engaging in a brief, quiet, personal religious observance doubly protected by the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment. And the only meaningful justification the government offered for its reprisal rested on a mistaken view that it had a duty to ferret out and suppress,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the Court’s opinion. “Religious observances even as it allows comparable secular speech. The Constitution neither mandates nor tolerates that kind of discrimination.”
Joe Kennedy, who was a junior varsity head coach and varsity assistant coach with the Bremerton School District in Washington from 2008 to 2015, began the practice of reciting a post-game prayer by himself, but eventually students started joining him. Those prayers would eventually evolve into motivational speeches that included religious themes.
An opposing coach took issue with it by telling the principal and Kennedy was told to stop the practice. He would listen, but then inform the school he would resume the practice.
The situation garnered so much attention that when he did pray, a number of people stormed the field in support. After continuing the prayers at two more games, the school district placed Kennedy on leave.
The Court’s ruling also stated that there is a distinct reason for why speech like Kennedy’s is protected by both the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses.
“That the First Amendment doubly protects religious speech is no accident. It is a natural outgrowth of the framers’ distrust of government attempts to regulate religion and suppress dissent,” Gorsuch wrote.