The Supreme Court today ruled in favor of a football coach who was suspended from his job at a public high school in Washington state for refusing to stop praying with his players after games.
The court’s conservative majority ruled that the school district cannot prohibit the coach, Joseph Kennedy, from expressing his faith on the playing field because such expression is protected by his First Amendment right to freedom of speech and religion.
The school district, however, had argued that the prayers amounted to an express endorsement of religion, in this case, Christianity, by a public employee, something also explicitly prohibited by the First Amendment with the goal of separating church and state.
Kennedy always defended that he did not force players to pray with him and that he treated those who did not the same way.
The Supreme Court said that the courts through which this case has passed – and which had ruled in favor of the school district – troublingly found that any public employee speaks for the government and therefore is not protected by the First Amendment.
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For years, Kennedy knelt and prayed with his players on the field, until 2015 when the school district found out and asked him to stop. The coach continued to pray and allow students who wanted to join to do so as well, until he was suspended with pay.