When did a man’s right to pray in public, while doing his job, turn into government endorsement of religion?
That’s what lawyers for a school district in Bremerton, Wash. called it when a high school football coach in that state was placed on leave six years ago for praying after games, The Associated Press reported.
The U.S. Supreme Court was to hear the case of Joe Kennedy on April 25. Kennedy, who coached at Bremerton High School in Bremerton, Wash. told The New York Times he had promised God when he became a coach to “Give you the glory after every game, win or lose.”
Kennedy said that the appropriate place for this ritual was “on the field of battle,” and after a game would kneel at midfield and pray, with students and others sometimes joining in.
When the Bremerton School District told him he couldn’t do this, Kennedy sued on the basis that they had violated his First Amendment rights, the Times reported. The district’s lawyers said he could pray in private, but publicly getting to his knees and thanking God could appear to be a government endorsement of religion.
Why isn’t it merely a government endorsement of his freedom to pray to God?
Americans United for Separation of Church and State President Rachel Laser, representing the school board, said that when the coach prays at midfield, there’s pressure on kids to join. The AP reported that one student said anonymously he worried about losing time on the field if he didn’t join in.
Justice ruled in 2000 that student-led prayers at high school football games violate the first amendment because they have the “improper” impact of forcing those who are there to participate in religious worship, even if no “forcing” is actually done. A more conservative court today could find it differently.