U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of public school officials pressuring students to participate in Christian prayer
The United States Supreme Court yesterday ruled in favor of a football coach who held disruptive and provocative religious ceremonies at the 50-yard line after high school football games, during which he surrounded by kneeling students.
The Supreme Court’s decision, which follows Friday’s ruling abolishing the constitutional right to abortion, is a direct attack on the separation of church and state.
The decision was made by the far-right bloc made up of Neil Gorsuch, Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh, Samuel Alito, John Roberts and Clarence Thomas. The other three judges – Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan – filed a dissenting opinion.
The lawsuit in question was brought by Joseph Kennedy, who was hired in 2008 by the Bremerton School District in suburban Seattle, Washington, to serve as a part-time assistant coach for Bremerton High’s varsity football team. School and as a head coach. for the junior varsity team.
The Seattle area in particular has a national reputation for cultural and religious tolerance. Documents filed in friend (friend of the court) briefs to the Supreme Court prior to yesterday’s ruling state that Kitsap County, where the district is located, is home to “Bahá’ís, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, and many denominations of Christians,” as well as “many residents who are not affiliated with any religion.” The county has 5,000 public school students, as well as more than 300 teachers and 400 non-teaching staff.
The school district’s written policy, like many others in the United States, states that “religious services, programs, or assemblies shall not be held in educational facilities during school hours or in connection with any government-sponsored activity. ‘school or school-related’. The policy requires secular neutrality: school officials cannot endorse or denounce a particular religion when acting in their official capacity.
Kennedy, while acting in an official capacity, developed a practice of forming Christian prayer circles on the 50-yard line after football games in clear violation of this policy. In the center of the circle, surrounded by kneeling students, Kennedy held a football helmet aloft and led the students in prayer in full view of the assembled parents as well as students from the opposing team.
Students playing for the team were pressured to participate in these religious ceremonies conducted by Kennedy. As the dissenting justices noted in their written opinion, “several parents contacted the district saying their children participated in Kennedy’s prayers only to avoid becoming separated from the rest of the team.”
Kennedy was in a position of authority over the students and had the power to make decisions that affected their participation in the sport. In the meantime, it is understood that minors do not have the same powers of resistance as adults in the face of pressure from people in positions of authority, which makes the students subjected to these “prayer circles” particularly vulnerable.
Having formed a kind of religious cult around him, Kennedy obviously became something of a local rallying point for Christian fundamentalists. Prior to a game, “Kennedy made several media appearances to publicize his intention to pray at the 50-yard line, which led to an article in the Seattle News and a local TV show about the upcoming comeback game.
During this game, Kennedy’s prayer circle was joined by staff and students from the opposing team. “TV cameras surrounded the group” as members of the public “rushed onto the grounds to join Kennedy, jumping the fences to gain access to the grounds and knocking down members of the student group.”
The school district attempted to take steps to resolve the issue, correctly believing that under well-established U.S. constitutional law, the district could not be considered to officially endorse any particular religion. The district made patient efforts to accommodate the coach by offering to move his prayer sessions to a secluded and private location. But the coach arrogantly and vehemently refused to stop the practice, leaving the district no choice but to suspend it, fearing that if they didn’t, the district could be rightfully sued by parents who s objected to having their children forced to participate in religious activities. ceremonies.
The coach, backed by religious fundamentalists and no doubt emboldened by a long string of reactionary Supreme Court rulings, sued the district for reinstatement, saying his “religious freedom” had been violated. The Supreme Court yesterday rewarded him with a ruling in his favour, provocatively saying he had been ‘fired for praying’.
The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, part of the 1791 Bill of Rights, prohibits state and local governments from passing laws “respecting the establishment of religion.” In the words of Thomas Jefferson, this clause was designed to erect a “wall of separation” between government and religion.
The Supreme Court itself has long recognized that this clause “orders a separation of church and state,” which means the government cannot sponsor, provide financial support, or actively promote any religious or religious activity. a particular religion.
This is especially true of the public school system. In public schools, the government has at its mercy masses of young people who are vulnerable to pressure and whose attendance is required by law, and where government officials have the power to discipline and punish students who do not follow their instructions. Meanwhile, students tend to trust and admire their teachers, whom they are encouraged to see as role models and trusted sources of knowledge.
The convergence of these factors has made schools a frequent target of religious fundamentalists over the past century and a frequent battleground for Establishment Clause disputes. In an earlier period, the Supreme Court frequently pushed back against right-wing efforts to convert public schools into institutions of religious indoctrination. As the Supreme Court wrote in 1948, the government cannot use “its public school system to aid any or all religious denominations or sects in the dissemination of their doctrines and ideals.”
In a protracted process over the past few decades, the Supreme Court has eroded and weakened these protections, frequently invoking the “religious freedom” of Christian fundamentalists to impose their views on others.
According to the tendentious and topsy-turvy reasoning that the Supreme Court has invoked in these recent cases, the freedom not to suffer religious discrimination becomes the “freedom” of religious fanatics and provocateurs to discriminate and impose their religion on others. In an infamous 2018 case, for example, the Supreme Court upheld the “religious freedom” of an anti-gay bigot to refuse to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple.
As a result of yesterday’s ruling, in the words of the dissenting justices, the Establishment Clause’s protections in this area have been rendered “almost toothless”.
Yesterday’s decision, brutal and clumsy like all the writings emanating from this bloc of aspiring inquisitors, is part of a rapid series of wrecking balls directed against the entire edifice of democratic reforms recognized by the Supreme Court for the century last.
Like pirates who have commandeered a ship and hoisted the Jolly Roger, this bloc functions as a political gang attacking democratic rights at every level and subverting tradition, history and Supreme Court precedent.
Half of that block of six justices – Gorsuch, Barrett and Kavanaugh – are appointed by a president who tried to violently overthrow the government in January last year. Two others – Alito and Roberts – were nominated by a president who was installed after the Supreme Court interfered in an election and halted the vote count in 2000. And the gang’s longest-serving member, the notoriously corrupt Clarence Thomas, used his position on the Supreme Court to protect his wife, a fascist agent and agitator closely linked to Trump’s Jan. 6 plot.
On Thursday last week, the same six-judge bloc said a New York state law restricting the issuance of licenses to carry a concealed weapon was “unconstitutional.” With the Rittenhouse murders and the January 6 coup attempt in the background, as well as a series of school shootings, this decision was made with a nod to violent far-right militias. and fascists organized around Trump.
On the same day, the Supreme Court issued a ruling that bars victims of police misconduct from pursuing lawsuits, in cases where the police do not give the victim a Miranda Attention.
Last Friday, the Supreme Court struck down the constitutional right to abortion, a historic and brutal assault on democratic rights. That same week, the Supreme Court issued a ruling essentially forcing the state of Maine to fund private religious schools.
Together with Monday’s decision, these last three rulings are an open invitation to Christian fundamentalists to use the repressive apparatus of the state to enforce their doctrines.
Taken together, these decisions reflect a political establishment and social order increasingly openly hostile to democratic forms of government while mobilizing all available forces of reaction and repression in the face of a growing threat from below.