Supreme Court Says Separation of Church and State Does Not Prohibit Public School Employees From Praying

In another landmark move, the Supreme Court says that separation of church and state does not prohibit public school employees from praying, they said in a statement.

The decision came as the Court said a Washington state school district violated the First Amendment rights of high school football coach Joe Kennedy when he lost his job in 2015 after praying at the 50-yard line after games, ABC News reported.

Kennedy has said that the prayers were brief and private individual acts of faith but the school district felt otherwise, according to ABC News.

Following Monday’s decision, Justice Neil Gorsuch gave reason for those who voted in favor of Kennedy.

“The Constitution and the best of our traditions counsel mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and suppression, for religious and nonreligious views alike,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the majority opinion.

The opinion was 6-3 and said that Kennedy’s prayers were private speech and protected by the First Amendment, and could not be restricted by the school district.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented, joined by Justice Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan.

Sotomayor wrote in her descent “about whether a public school must permit a school official to kneel, bow his head, and say a prayer at the center of a school event,” and wrote, “The Constitution does not authorize, let alone require, public schools to embrace this conduct.”

“It elevates one individual’s interest in personal religious exercise, in the exact time and place of that individual’s choosing, over society’s interest in protecting the separation between church and state, eroding the protections for religious liberty for all,” she added.

The Court outlined their decision in a public syllabus Monday announcing their decision.

“He did not speak pursuant to government policy and was not seeking to convey a government-created message. He was not instructing players, discussing strategy, encouraging better on-field performance, or engaged in any other speech the District paid him to produce as a coach. Simply put: Mr. Kennedy’s prayers did not ‘ow[e their] existence’ to Mr. Kennedy’s responsibilities as a public employee,” the Supreme Court syllabus said.

“We are aware of no historically sound understanding of the Establishment Clause that begins to ‘[make] it necessary for government to be hostile to religion’ in this way,” Gorsuch wrote.

The Establishment Clause of the Constitution says Congress can “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

In a statement obtained by CNN, Kennedy praised the decision, saying, “All I’ve ever wanted was to be back on the field with my guys I thank God for answering our prayers and sustaining my family through this long battle.”

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