High school football coach, Joseph Kennedy, always prayed a quiet prayer of thanks after each game, acknowledging God’s blessings. Players eventually asked to join him, and it became routine – until an atheist player complained and the school district obliged, asking coach Kennedy to stop praying. Now, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide if Coach Kennedy’s prayer was a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
I joined my Family Policy Alliance colleagues in signing an amicus brief in the case known as Kennedy v. Bremerton, supporting the coach’s right to live his faith outside the four walls of his church – and, yes, even on a football field.
Our argument focuses on the fact that the Establishment Clause regarding schools is understood to mean students shouldn’t be coerced by officially approved religious beliefs (which Kennedy’s prayer was not). But how does that differ from the recent and widespread push to officially approve instruction in such ideology as critical race theory (CRT), social emotional learning (SEL), diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), or any number of other ideological topics? The brief alludes to that by stating:
“In the time since the development of this jurisprudence, a new area of religious-like beliefs has grown in popularity: beliefs held with the seal and fervor traditionally associated with religion, but without the historical connection to organized faith. These beliefs are now vigorously advocated within our schools, although doing so raises the same philosophical concerns that underlie Establishment Clause jurisprudence.” – Randall Wenger, Counsel for Amici Curiae
Whereas the Establishment Clause has always discouraged official, established teaching of religious beliefs in the classroom, these days, it’s not faith as much as it’s ideological agendas that dominate curriculum.
“Today, many look to other belief systems to give life meaning and inform the moral duties of society … These are not understood to be theistic religious beliefs, and yet they are embraced with a zeal that equals or far surpasses that of many adherents to traditional religions. Just like religions, these worldviews are heavily proselytized, and those who do not convert to the new orthodoxies can expect to encounter ongoing pressure, criticism, and marginalization.” – Randall Wenger, Counsel for Amici Curiae
Privately practicing one’s religion on school grounds does not offend the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment; the whole goal of the clause has been a posture of neutrality toward religion, not hostility.
Coach Kennedy’s prayer was neither coercive nor casually or officially attributed to the school. Unlike many subjects taught inside the classroom, Kennedy’s prayer was his own. The Court should not allow school districts to use the Establishment Clause to silence the prayers of Coach Kennedy or the exercise of religion for any American.
The Court could hear oral arguments as early as next month, or it could wait until next fall’s new term.
The Supreme Court will also decide a free speech case that has religious freedom implications. 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis involves a Colorado website designer whose religious beliefs require her to acknowledge marriage only between one man and one woman. But Colorado law is forcing Lorie Smith to create wedding site designs for same-sex couples.
You may remember a similar case, Masterpiece Cakeshop, where the Court ruled Colorado was hostile to Jack Phillips’ religious beliefs, but it did not rule on the central argument of whether the state law requiring Phillips to create cakes for same sex couples violated his right to free speech.
The Court in 303 Creative LLC v Elenis will take up the question of free speech, but it will not take up the critical religious freedom question. Still, the Court’s eventual ruling could have a great impact on similar religious freedom cases.
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