If your subscription to the Daily Dawg goes all the way back to 2017 you might remember the first time I told you about the case involving the football coach who liked to take a knee at the 50-yard line right after the game ended. There, joined by many players on both teams, he said a prayer. After someone objected to this practice, the superintendent told the coach that he had to say his prayer somewhere else. Well, guess what? The Supreme Court is going to hear this one. Get your popcorn!
I think I know how this one will come out. SCOTUS has extended the notion of religious liberty in several recent cases, some of them dealing with Covid-related restrictions on religious gatherings. There are at least four justices chomping at the bit to rule in favor of Coach Kennedy. I’m pretty sure the coach will garner at least one, and possibly two more votes in his favor. I don’t expect the Supremes to open the door to a daily practice of a school employee reciting The Lord’s Prayer or reading from the Bible over the P.A. every day. I expect the cases from the 1960s that established those restrictions will survive. But this case is different. It’s about the individual religious choice of a single person. Yes, he was “on the job” and served as a representative of the school district. Yes, his very conspicuous choice of location and timing sent a message to his players about his religious views. It’s not surprising that a lot of players chose to join in—but no one was forced to do so.
It will be very interesting to see how the Court decides this one. It is likely to mark a significant change in how school administrators can thread the needle in the Constitution—the needle that requires that public schools allow the free exercise of religion while not endorsing those exercises. A ruling against the school district might be welcomed by many school superintendents if it offers us clearer guidance on what is allowed and what is not. Right now, school superintendents and board members are caught in the middle of the culture war over issues like this. If you let the coach pray, you risk a lawsuit from a group like the Freedom From Religion Foundation. If you don’t allow the coach to pray, you risk a lawsuit from the coach, and condemnation from the pulpit.
Tomorrow I’m going to republish the Daily Dawg from September 1, 2017 to give you a bit more background on the case of Kennedy v. Bremerton School District.
DAWG BONE: MAYBE WE WILL GET SOME CLARITY ABOUT A VERY MURKY AREA OF THE LAW.
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Tomorrow: how the praying coach case began…