In a 6-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of former high school football coach Joe Kennedy to take a knee in quiet prayer after football games even if he can be seen by students and the general public. The court’s majority said that coach’s prayers were protected by the First Amendment. The court’s liberal justices said the decision weakens separation of church and state.
Paul Clement, former U.S. Solicitor General who argued Kennedy’s case before the Justices, said, “After seven long years, Coach Kennedy can finally return to the place he belongs – coaching football and quietly praying by himself after the game. This is a great victory for Coach Kennedy and the First Amendment.”
In response to today’s opinion, Coach Kennedy said, “This is just so awesome. All I’ve ever wanted was to be back on the field with my guys. I am incredibly grateful to the Supreme Court, my fantastic legal team, and everyone who has supported us. I thank God for answering our prayers and sustaining my family through this long battle.”
According to the opinion, “Respect for religious expressions is indispensable to life in a free and diverse Republic—whether those expressions take place in a sanctuary or on a field, and whether they manifest through the spoken word or a bowed head. Here, a government entity sought to punish an individual for engaging in a brief, quiet, personal religious observance doubly protected by the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment. And the only meaningful justification the government offered for its reprisal rested on a mistaken view that it had a duty to ferret out and suppress religious observances even as it allows comparable secular speech. The Constitution neither mandates nor tolerates that kind of discrimination.”
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who wrote for the three liberal dissenters said, “It elevates one individual’s interest in personal religious exercise, in the exact time and place of that individual’s choosing, over society’s interest in protecting the separation between church and state, eroding the protections for religious liberty for all.”