Rachel Laser, the president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which represented the school district, took a different view. She called the decision “the greatest loss of religious freedom in our country in generations” and she warned that Kennedy’s supporters would “try to expand this dangerous precedent – further undermining everyone’s right to live as ourselves and believe as we choose.”
In a stinging dissent, justice Sotomayor wrote (and showed) that the bulldozer majority had “misconstrue[d]” — more plainly, falsified & lied about — the facts” of the case, depicting Kennedy’s prayers as “private and quiet” when the prayers had actually caused “severe disruption to school events.”
I’m not an atheist; in fact I’ll be attending worship in a couple of hours, in a very small, but doughty, minority sect (aka Quakers) and may well even pray there. Our group had to struggle & suffer to gain religious freedom, for ourselves and others, and that experience remains unforgotten. So whatever is columnist Pamela Paul’s faith or unfaith, (her private business), I nod in gratitude as she spotlights some of the many ominous implications of this precedent, especially for those associated with minority faiths, or the steadily growing population of “Nones.” Added up, to paraphrase a stanza from The Music Man, they spell
Trouble with a Capital T,
And that rhymes with P
And that stands for
Pushing private prayer on a progressively more p*ssed off public.
Imagine your boss fervently proclaiming his religious beliefs at the end of a companywide meeting, inviting everyone on the team who shares those beliefs to join in. You’re surrounded by colleagues and other higher-ups. Everyone is watching to see who participates and who holds back, knowing that whatever each of you does could make or break your job and even your career, whether you share his convictions or not. But hey, totally up to you!
That’s what Joseph Kennedy, a former assistant coach in Kitsap County, Wash., did with his team — only he did it with public-school students at a high-school football game. When the superintendent made clear that by actively inviting players to join him at the 50-yard line for postgame Christian prayers, he was violating school policy and, by the way, the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, Kennedy took to the media, turning a small town’s school sporting event into a three-ring circus and ugly social media sideshow, with students effectively forced to perform or suffer the consequences.
Naming the single worst decision of the Supreme Court’s disgraceful 2021-22 term is a tough call. But the one that best captures the majority’s brazen efforts to inflict its political and religious agenda on the rest of the country may well be Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, which ruled that the coach had a constitutional right to pray on the field. Overturning precedent and in a cynical elision of fact, Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing for a 6-to-3 majority, affirmed Kennedy’s assertion that his proselytizing on government property during a public-school function was “private,” “personal” and “quiet.”
It was nothing of the kind. In easily observable fact, Kennedy’s religious display was public, vocal and coercive, as demonstrated by testimony from football players and other community members and by video and photographs of the coach surrounded by crowds of people on bent knee. According to an amicus brief filed by one of Kennedy’s football players and seven other members of the community on behalf of the school district, participation in Kennedy’s prayers was “expected.” Students were explicitly encouraged by him to ask the other teams’ coaches and players to join in, something Kennedy himself boasted about.