American football coach suspended after praying with team, rights upheld by US Supreme Court | US News

An American football coach who received paid leave after praying on the field before games has been upheld by the US Supreme Court.

America’s highest court ruled Monday that the Christian coach’s prayers are protected by the First Amendment — freedom of speech.

Joseph Kennedy, who was a part-time assistant football coach at Bremerton High School in Washington State until 2015, sued after being suspended from his job for refusing to pray with players on the field after games .

judge on the supreme court dismissed the school’s concerns. Kennedy’s prayers and Christian-tinged speeches could be seen as “compulsion towards students or government endorsement of a particular religion”.

Bremerton's assistant football coach Joe Kennedy, obscured in center in blue, is surrounded by Centralia High School football players who kneel on the field and pray with him after their game against Bremerton October 16, 2015 in Bremerton, Washington.  After losing his coaching job for refusing to kneel in prayer with players and spectators on the field immediately after football matches,

The court ruled 6-3 in favor of the coach, with the court’s conservative, right-wing judges in a majority and liberals at odds.

The decision is the latest in a series of Supreme Court rulings on religious plaintiffs.

In another recent example, the court ruled that Maine can no longer exclude religious schools from a program that offers grants for private education.

And it comes after last week Repeal of the historic Roe v Wade case law legalized abortion in America, which has been around for almost 50 years.

Nikki Tran of Washington holds up a sign with pictures of Supreme Court Justices Thomas, Kavanaugh, Alito, Coney Barrett and Gorsuch as protesters protest outside the US Supreme Court Tuesday, May 3, 2022 in Washington.  According to a Politico report released Monday, a draft opinion suggests the U.S. Supreme Court may be ready to hear the landmark case of Roe v.  Wade in 1973, which legalized abortion nationwide.  Regardless of the outcome, the Politico report represents an extremely rare violation of the court's secret deliberative process and concerns a case of paramount importance.  (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
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Image: Associated Press

Of Coach Mr. Kennedy’s case, Judge Neil Gorsuch wrote: “The Constitution and the best of our traditions counsel mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and repression, of both religious and non-religious views.”

Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch testifies Wednesday, March 22, 2017 during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington.  (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
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Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. Image: AP

The case forced the judges to wrestle with how to balance the religious and freedom of expression rights of teachers and coaches with the rights of students not to feel pressured to participate in religious practices.

The result could increase the acceptance of some religious practices in other public school settings.

In a Dissident on Monday, Judge Sonia Sotomayor wrote that the decision “takes us further down a dangerous path of forcing states to get entangled in religion.”

Mr. Kennedy had initially prayed alone at the end of the high school American football team.

violate student rights

But the students joined him, and over time he began giving a short, inspirational talk with religious references.

He did that for years, leading students to prayers in locker rooms — but the school district learned what he was doing in 2015 and asked him to stop.

He stopped in the dressing room and on the field, but wanted to continue praying himself on the field, with students free to come if they wished.

Concerned about being sued for violating students’ freedom of religion, the school asked him to stop his practice of kneeling and praying after the game while he was still “on duty” as a coach.

The school attempted to work out a solution to allow Kennedy to pray privately before or after the game. When he continued to kneel and pray in the field, the school put him on paid leave.

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