The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to allow high school football coaches to pray on the field after games is expected to reopen a vigorous and perhaps tense debate among parents, teachers, and others over whether religion is on the public school grounds. How far can California enter education and legal experts? Said Monday.
Conservatives and some Christian leaders praised court action, A reasonable accommodation for religious and free speech rights, saying it allows Koch’s personal religious expression and those who voluntarily follow him. But civil libertarians and many teachers said that allowing a coach or another school authority to lead the prayer was tantamount to establishing the kind of religion that the Constitution forbids.
“The court has opened doors to prayer schools at no time in the past 60 years,” said Irwin Chemerinsky, a constitutional law expert and dean of UC Berkeley’s law school. “There will be a lot of litigation. And it is not at all clear where the court will draw the line.”
The High Court’s 60-year-old decision prohibiting an official prayer in New York schools had drawn a bright line for school officials: that practices and policies on campus must have a strictly secular purpose. John Rogers, a professor of education at UCLA and an expert on training school administrators, said Monday’s decision blurred that line and would invite additional challenges, which would invite more room for religious expression in schools.
“One of the consequences of this decision is that it’s probably going to open up more conflict in schools,” Rogers said. “This is probably going to create more challenges for principals and other district leaders, as new efforts are being made to replace religion with public schools. In some school settings, religious minorities or people who follow any religion They are going to feel some compulsion or silence or a sense of isolation.”
Monday’s decision came in the case of Joe Kennedy, assistant coach at Bremerton High School in Washington state. Kennedy began kneeling himself at the 50-yard line after the games to pray, although the sessions soon became highly publicized and drew crowds of players and spectators on the field.
When the prayer became a public event, school officials warned the coach that they could be seen as violating the constitution’s restriction on “establishment of religion”. Kennedy was suspended after he refused to follow the district’s guidance. He was not hired again for the next year.
Lower courts ruled against Kennedy, but on a conservative majority Supreme court found that Koch’s prayers were protected under two other provisions of the First Amendment – the free speech clause and the “free exercise” of religion clause.
“The Constitution and our best traditions advocate mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and repression, for religious and non-religious views alike,” Justice Neil M. Gorsuch wrote For a 6-3 majority.
The court action prompted a lively discussion Monday on a Facebook group for parents supporting teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District and generally associated with their union.
One parent praised Kennedy’s protection of free speech and religious freedom rights, saying that Koch never forced others to attend prayer sessions. But many other parents objected, saying players and students could feel ridiculed or ostracized if they are a minority who do not attend the prayer.
Other parents wonder how receptive the High Court would have been to the independence arguments if the coach in question had been a Muslim, who placed a prayer rug in midfield and bowed in prayer to Allah.
“I don’t know whether this Supreme Court will decide yet If it were a religion other than Christianity,” said Tracy Abbott Cook, one of the parents in the discussion group. “And why does this coach have to bring up religion in public at this very moment? Maybe people want a break from religion and politics when they go to a sporting event. , , , Why fuck it?”
Los Angeles School Sept. Alberto M. Carvalho said the district’s policy has already made it clear that employees are allowed to pray, but on their own time and in their own place. Carvalho said the district forbids prayers that make students feel compelled to attend.
“To the extent that you engage in prayer, by yourself, outside of the real [school] The incident — and you didn’t force someone to accompany you in prayer — is within the railing of free speech, which you don’t lose when you enter public school,” he said. “If it goes beyond that , then it will not be allowed.”
But even in the country’s second largest school district, it appears those guidelines are not followed uniformly.
Football coaches at three high LA Unified schools said they were aware of the rules requiring separation of religion and school functions, although they said players sometimes pray informally, sometimes in small groups.
Dorsey High’s football coach Staffon Johnson said he regularly prays just before and after games. “I’m praying for his comfort, … injury free, praying for the other teams so they can travel safely,” Johnson said. Johnson said that he feels that the players get rest from the practice.
He said he mentions “God” in his prayers, but considers it a universal word and that Muslim players and coaches “participated in their own way.”
Carvalho said he would need to know details about Dorsey High prayer sessions, but they seemed “inconsistent” with the district’s policy.
Orange County Board of Education Trustee Ken Williams commended the court for its decision, saying that the celebration of religious diversity and expression of faith is central to American identity.
One Christian Williams said, “I fully understand that you cannot force someone to pray or believe the things I believe in.” “I think it’s very American, but I also think religion is important. This nation was founded by people with religious beliefs.”
In the Central Valley’s Clovis Unified School District, board member Steven Fogg said he would support a change in policy to allow teachers and coaches to lead prayer at athletic events. The district had earlier allowed only students to lead the prayer.
The district had for years opened school board meetings with prayer, closed after a regular appeals court ruled against the practice in 2018 in a case involving a school board in Chino Valley.
“I hope people are not threatened by prayer. They shouldn’t be,” said Fogg, who is Mormon. “Prayer should not be such that there is animosity, otherwise it is false prayer. We certainly do not want anyone to feel excluded. It should be something that brings people together.”
But lawyers who argued against organized prayer on the basis of the school, said the practice becomes coercion and boycott when it is led by instructors and other officials. The ACLU of Washington noted that one of Kennedy’s players participated in a prayer against his own beliefs, for fear of losing playing time if he refused.
“This decision separates church and state — a fundamental tenet of our democracy — and potentially harms our youth,” said Taryn Darling, senior staff attorney for the ACLU in Washington.
“Some parties see a political game as a way to make our public schools theaters for conflict,” said UCLA’s Rogers. “And I think this is to the detriment of public schools, which require some common purpose to advance our shared interest in developing the abilities of youth to serve the wider community.”
Monday’s ruling did not reverse previous court rulings that forbade the more direct intrusion of religion into the curriculum and school days.
In 1962, the High Court ruled in Engel v. Vitale that the Board of Regents of New York could not pray over students. The court turned down the New York teachers’ offer, even though they argued that their one-sentence prayer was non-sectarian.
Justice Hugo Black found that the mere introduction of prayer (“God Almighty, we acknowledge our dependence on you, and we ask your blessings on us, our parents, our teachers, and our country. Amen.”) It was by his nature. , is sufficient to constitute an illegal establishment of religion, even if not openly coerced to participate in prayer.
In subsequent decades, the Supreme Court would overrule an Alabama law allowing one-minute prayer or meditation during the school day and prohibited prayer led by religious leaders at school graduation ceremonies. In 2000, the court also struck down a Texas school board’s policy that allowed students to make majority decisions for student-led “calls” at soccer games, graduations, and other school celebrations.
“Religious freedom protected by the Constitution is curtailed when the state affirmatively sponsors the particular religious practice of prayer,” Justice John Paul Stevens said in a 6-3 opinion dismissing the school’s prayer plan. Stephen Breyer is the only justice remaining in court who agreed to that opinion. He is due to retire this summer.