Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case involving former high school football coach Joe Kennedy, who said his constitutional rights were violated after being suspended for praying on the 50-yard line after games.
The coach (who is Christian) defended his right to pray, saying: "Every American should be able to [express their] faith in public and not worry about being fired."
At the heart of the argument: the question of whether a teacher who is praying on school property — in full view of students, parents and faculty — is praying as a private citizen or a public school employee (where his speech isn’t protected due to a separation of church/state).
- It was private prayer – therefore Kennedy did not violate the separation of church/state
- Kennedy never asked players to pray with him (and when some joined, it was their personal choice)
- Teachers don't forego their free speech rights when they enter school property (even if that speech is prayer)
- Allowing religious speech doesn’t mean a public school endorses it (or any specific religion)
- Kennedy was a school coach praying on school property, after a school game, in a very public manner. In other words: he was acting as a school employee, not a private citizen.
- Praying in such a public manner – and allowing players to join in – might make other students feel pressured to join (or, conversely, excluded if they don’t join or share Kennedy's religious beliefs)
- His behavior might call into question whether Kennedy shows favoritism toward students/players who pray with him
- Allowing group prayer at a school event could be seen as endorsing Christianity over other religions
The court recently ruled in Kennedy’s favor, saying his prayers are protected by his right to free speech/religious exercise.
Reading about this case got us thinking …
? If Kennedy invited his players to a Christian group prayer session immediately after games — but at his home, would that be acceptable? Or would that be a violation of the separation of church/state?
? Should teachers refrain from expressing their beliefs (religious or personal) to students, lest they feel pressured into agreeing with them?
? Is it fair to ask public school employees to refrain from expressing their religious beliefs at their jobs, if those beliefs are an integral part of their lives?
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