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Supreme Court Uses Praying Football Coach to Gut Separation of Church and State

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Continuing its hot streak of elevating religious concerns over democratic rights, the conservative-dominated Supreme Court on Monday overruled a 51-year old precedent on the separation of church and state and opened the door to prayer in public school.

It did so on ideological lines, 6-3, just days after gutting the constitutional right to abortion.

The facts of the case are familiar to anyone who went to public school in a conservative area, as I did. A high-school football coach, Joseph Kennedy, led prayers both on-field and in the locker room at football games. Although the Court’s opinion in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, authored by Justice Neil Gorsuch, says these prayers were personal and private, Justice Sotomayor’s dissent includes photographs of the actual prayers, showing that they were anything but: football players kneeled around the coach as he led them in Christian prayer.

From a constitutional point of view, these facts present the tension between two clauses of the First Amendment. On the one hand, the coach’s prayer is his free exercise of religion. On the other hand, he’s the coach, this is a public school, and while in theory the players don’t have to participate, in practice everyone knows that you may risk ostracism and exclusion if you don’t. Thus, the prayers arguably violate the Establishment Clause, which forbids the government from establishing an official religion.

It is no surprise that Justice Gorsuch focuses exclusively on the first clause, holding that Coach Kennedy’s prayers were not only permissible, but that the school must allow him to conduct them. Gorsuch has repeatedly ruled in this way during his time on the court: requiring taxpayers to fund religious schools when they fund non-religious private........

© The Daily Beast

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