Supreme Court decision on ‘praying coach’ rests on a bed of lies

Supreme Court delivered groundbreaking ruling in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District on Monday, overrule a case from 1971 which states how the government should keep distance from religion.

But Judge Neil Gorsuch’s opinion of himself and his fellow Republican appointees is based on a bizarre misrepresentation of the facts of the case. He repeatedly claims that Joseph Kennedy, a former public school football coach at Bremerton High School in Washington State, prayed ostentatiously on the 50-yard line after football games — often accompanied by his players, members of the opposing team, and members of the general audience – “quietly offered his prayers while his students were otherwise busy.”

(Justice Brett Kavanaugh didn’t agree with a brief portion of Gorsuch’s view about protecting free speech in the Constitution, but Gorsuch went on to speak on behalf of the entire Republican majority of the Court.)

Because Gorsuch misrepresents the facts of this case, it is difficult to assess many of its implications.

The Court’s decision to explicitly reject Citroen v. Kurtzmanthe 1971 decree that previously settled cases prohibiting the language of the Constitution”an establishment of religion”, has clear implications for future trials: lower court judges no longer apply Lemon‘s founding clause framework.

But it’s not clear how those lower courts should now navigate questions about the separation of church and state. Although the Court rejects Lemonit does not announce an elaborate test that will replace Lemon. Instead of, Kennedy announces a vague new rule that “the establishment clause should be interpreted by ‘reference to historical practices and understanding’.”

In addition, because Gorsuch’s opinion is so heavily based on false facts, the Court doesn’t actually rule what the Constitution says about a coach who prays ostentatiously in front of students and the public. Instead, it decides a made-up case about a coach who was only concerned with “private” and “silent” prayer.

If the facts of Kennedy actually resembled the fabricated facts laid out in Gorsuch’s opinion, so? Kennedy would have achieved the correct result. even under Lemona public school employee is usually allowed to pray quietly while not actively engaging with students.

However, Gorsuch’s opinion describes a very different case from the case that was actually before the Court.

Coach Kennedy engaged in very public prayer

In the real case that was actually before the Supreme Court, Coach Kennedy incorporated “motivational” prayers into his coaching† Eventually, these prayers culminated in public, after-game sessions, where both Kennedy’s players and the opposing team’s players. kneel around Kennedy as he held up the helmets of both teams and led the students in prayer.

After the games, Kennedy also walked to the 50-yard line, where he would kneel and pray in front of students and spectators. At first he did that alone, but after a few matches, students started to join him – eventually a majority of his players did. A parent complained to the school district that his son “felt compelled to participate” despite being an atheist because the student was afraid”he wouldn’t play as much if he didn’t participate

When the Bremerton school district heard of Kennedy’s behavior, it told him to decline — though it did offer to accommodate Kennedy if he wanted to pray if he wasn’t surrounded by students and onlookers. And Kennedy put an end to some of his most extravagant behaviors, such as the prayer sessions where he kept the helmets on while surrounded by kneeling students.

But Kennedy also went on a media tour, presenting himself as a coach who “entered into a covenant with God” to outlets ranging from local newspapers to Good morning America† And Kennedy’s attorney informed the school district that the coach would resume praying at the 50-yard line immediately after the games.

At the next game after this tour, coaches, players and members of the public stormed the field as Kennedy knelt to pray. A federal appeals court described this mob as a “rush,‘ and the headmaster said he ‘saw people falling’ and that the district was unable to ‘protect children’ because of the crowds. Members of the school’s marching band were knocked over by the crowd.

And, contrary to Gorsuch’s repeated claims that Kennedy only wanted to offer a “short, personal, personal prayer,” Kennedy was surrounded by players, reporters and members of the public as he held his prayer session after that game. We know this because Judge Sonia Sotomayor included a photo of the scene in her dissenting opinion.

Gorsuch dismisses this photographic evidence by claiming that “not a single Bremerton student joined Mr. Kennedy’s silent prayers” after this game – he claims that the players in this photo are “from the other team.”

Whether those players are from the Bremerton school district or not, that doesn’t change the fact that Kennedy held very public prayer sessions, and did so while acting as the official representative of a public school. Nor does it change the fact that, after being ordered to cease this activity, Kennedy went on a media tour that seemed intended to turn his supposedly “silent prayers” into a public political spectacle, one to which both players as spectators eagerly participated. †

Among the real facts of Kennedy’s case, Kennedy has violated the Constitution.

The Lemon casewhich the Court rejected in Kennedyruled that the government’s actions “should have a secular legislative purpose”, that their “principal or primary effect must be one that does not promote or inhibit religion”, and that the government has “no undue entanglement of government with religion” may encourage. †

A public school official who performs a very public prayer during his official duties as a government official is clearly violating this Lemon to test.

Lemon was pronounced in a different era, when the Court insisted that the government should remain neutral on matters of religion. Last week, however, in a case over state funding for religious education, the Supreme Court scorned such calls for neutrality — even if it were unconstitutional that laws denying funding to religious institutions to maintain government neutrality on religion are unconstitutional. .

So, in light of those and similar decisions, it is no surprise that the Court’s new majority decided to Lemon† Indeed, in a line that contributes to the many falsehoods according to Gorsuchhe inaccurately claims that the Court “leaved a long time ago” Lemon† Gorsuch also criticizes Lemon because it reportedly “leaded to ‘different results’ in materially identical cases.”

Even now that Lemon is rejected, but the decision of the Court in Lee v. Weisman (1992), which forbids public schools to force students into religious exercises, should have banned Kennedy’s actions.

In Lee, a public high school invited a rabbi to open and close the graduation ceremony with prayers. The court ruled that these prayers exerted a subtle pressure on students to participate in a religious ceremony and were therefore not allowed.

“The undeniable fact,” Judge Anthony Kennedy wrote in that decision, “is that the school district’s oversight and control of a high school graduation puts both public and peer pressure on the students in attendance to stand as a group.” or, at least keep a respectful silence during the invocation and the blessing.” Such pressure, “though subtle and indirect, can be as real as any overt coercion” because it leaves a young non-adherent with “a reasonable idea that she is being forced by the state to pray in a way that her conscience cannot allows”.

Kennedy’s prayer sessions were, if anything, more compelling than the ceremonial prayers held in… Lee† A graduation, by its very nature, marks the end of a public school’s ability to exert coercive power over its outgoing students. Kennedy, on the other hand, had constant authority over his students as he conducted his prayer sessions. Students who participated in those sessions may hope to interest themselves with their coach and thereby gain more playing time and other benefits. Students who declined to participate may have feared antagonizing their coach — and losing playing time, a possible letter of recommendation from college, or a promotion from the junior varsity team to the varsity team. (Kennedy was both the head coach of the JV team and an assistant coach of the varsity team.)

To this, Gorsuch claims there is “no indication on the record that anyone has expressed any compulsion to the district.” Even if that were true, it would not negate the fact that teachers and students exercise considerable coercive authority over their students, and for this reason students are understandably reluctant to complain about a teacher or coach.

Gorsuch also claims that Kennedy was only acting as a private individual, not a public school employee, when he prayed on the 50-yard line. The school district, Gorsuch notes repeatedly, allowed coaches to “take a private moment” after each game to call home, check a text, socialize or participate in any form of secular activity. ” So a coach who wants to quietly spend this moment of free time praying should be able to do that.

Again, if the facts of this case resembled the false facts set forth in Gorsuch’s opinion, then Gorsuch would have a point. Public school employees may engage in personal devotion, such as praying over lunch in a school cafeteria while they are at work.

But there’s nothing private about a school employee leading a media tour and promoting his plans to pray on the 50-meter line of a soccer field right after a game. There’s nothing private about the coach executing that plan – especially when he’s doing so surrounded by kneeling players, cameras and members of the audience.

In any case, although Gorsuch’s opinion prevails… Lemonit is not meant to be overruled Lee† And, as explained above, Lee allows public school employees to engage in the kind of private, silent prayer Gorsuch falsely claims Kennedy engaged in after football games.

That means the doctrinal implications of Gorsuch’s Kennedy Opinion on future instances of public school staff forcing their students into religious practices is far from clear. If Gorsuch had ruled that the Constitution allows Kennedy to do what he actually did, that would be a hugely consistent decision that contradicts the Court’s earlier decision in Lee

But because Gorsuch paints such a misleading picture involving a coach uttering a “short, personal, personal prayer,” the narrower attitude of Kennedy is that this hypothetical activity is allowed. And again, Lee already allows public school employees to pray privately, personally.

Kennedy will no doubt inspire other teachers and coaches to act the same as Coach Kennedy, but those teachers and coaches will do so at their peril. Gorsuch’s opinion does not outweigh the question of whether a coach should do what Kennedy actually did. That remains an open question, because the Court has not actually decided that case.


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