Coach’s prayer ruled constitutional

The post-game, midfield prayer of a high school football coach did not violate the First Amendment’s ban on government establishment of religion, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision June 27.

The justices decided the Bremerton (Wash.) School District violated the First Amendment rights of Joseph Kennedy by removing him as a coach because of its concerns that his practice infringed on the Establishment Clause.

“[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,” Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the court’s opinion. “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 religious observances even as it allows comparable secular speech.”

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission joined in three friend-of-the court briefs in support of Kennedy, two urging the Supreme Court to review U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rulings and one in March calling for the justices to reverse the lower court. “The Establishment Clause, as properly interpreted, does not override the government’s duty to accommodate the free exercise of religion on a nondiscriminatory basis,” the most recent brief said.