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).

Supporters say:

  • 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)
Opponents say:
  • 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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  • David Lowen said:

    The issue here is the power dynamics of teacher/coach and student. Nothing is truly voluntary when the person in power is “inviting” others to participate, even if the invite is unsaid. This is even more true in an adult-adolescent relationship. Will the player feel the need to participate in order to curry favor or to not anger the coach? Will attending give undue advantages to those that show up? I have seen this first hand in a small Texas town east of Dallas back in the 80’s, where the head coach wanted all his players and coaches to attend services with him. It cost me my coaching position.

    July 12, 2022

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