Supreme Court rules school district cannot prohibit high school football coach’s prayers on field

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Originally Published: 27 JUN 22 10:07 ET
Updated: 27 JUN 22 10:23 ET

(CNN) — The Supreme Court said Monday that a Washington state school district violated the First Amendment rights of a high school football coach when he lost his job for praying at the 50-yard line after games.

The opinion was 6-3 along conservative-liberal ideological lines.

“The Constitution and the best of our traditions counsel mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and suppression, for religious and nonreligious views alike,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the majority opinion.

The court said coach Joe Kennedy’s prayers amounted to private speech, protected by the First Amendment, and could not be restricted by the school district.

The decision lowers the bar between church and state in an opinion that will allow more religious expression in public spaces. The court clarified that a government entity does not necessarily violate the Establishment Clause by permitting religious expression in public.

The decision continues a trend of a right-leaning court that has sided repeatedly in recent years with religious conservatives. Last week, the court said that Maine could not exclude religious schools from tuition assistance programs in a 6-3 decision divided along ideological lines.

“We are aware of no historically sound understanding of the Establishment Clause that begins to ‘(make) it necessary for government to be hostile to religion’ in this way,” Gorsuch wrote.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for the three liberal dissenters, said the court “weakens” the Establishment Clause’s “backstop” protecting religious freedom.

“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,” Sotomayor wrote.

This story is breaking and will be updated.

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