In its ruling for praying football coach, the Supreme Court shatters what is left of the separation between church and state

A few years ago when five Supreme Court justices turned a blind eye donald trump‘s contempt for Muslims and upheld a ban that prevented millions of them from traveling to the United States, Justice Sonja Sotomayor sounded the alarm to play favorites. Not with the incumbent President, although their colleagues certainly sanctioned one of his clearest demonstrations of xenophobia as a legal matter. Instead, the judges seemed to be flirting with religion itself. “When the government acts with the ostensible and overriding purpose [of disfavoring a particular religion]’ Sotomayor wrote, citing a previous case, ‘It violates the core Establishment Clause value of official religious neutrality, since neutrality does not exist when the government’s purported aim is to take sides.’ She viewed Trump’s remarks as candidate and his actions as President overall, writing: “A reasonable observer would easily conclude that ‘his ban’ was motivated by hostility and animus towards the Muslim faith”.

These admonitions are far in the rearview mirror. Still, they remain a useful yardstick for understanding how, in all the Trump years to date, the Supreme Court has played its favorites and dismantled block by block the church-state divide that the First Amendment once erected to protect itself to protect an officer. Foundation of Religion”. The latest blow to that wall landed on Monday when a Christian football coach with a habit of praying at the 50-yard line prevailed, convincing six judges that his public and seemingly coercive statements of faith smacked the First Amendment obligation religious neutrality were instead protected by other parts of the change – those protecting freedom of expression and freedom of religion.

Facts and Law in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District are a bit like a yarn. But it’s important to unravel them, because the Supreme Court, in an opinion from Justice Neil Gorsuch and broadly supported by the other five conservative justices, she massages them into a history of state intolerance toward an individual wishing to say “a silent prayer of thanksgiving,” thus humbly expressing himself and his faith in the context of his duties as a public employee. “Respect for religious expression is essential to life in a free and diverse republic—whether that expression takes place in a sanctuary or in a field, and whether it is manifested through spoken word or bowed head,” advises Gorsuch.

History is written by the winners, the saying goes, and Gorsuch tries his best to portray Kennedy as the martyr of a school district bent on its destruction. But that didn’t happen at all. Don’t take it from me, or even from Sotomayor’s dissenting opinion, which the judges concur Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan. Instead, heed the words of the US District Judge milan smith, a representative of George W Bush who took a close look at this controversy before the lower court and just last year was dismayed by the “fraudulent narrative” fueling it.

As the judge explains, Joseph Kennedy, a high school coach employed by the Bremerton School District in Washington state, was not an unfortunate official who was “disciplined for holding quiet, private prayers,” as Jesus clearly instructs in his sermon on the mountain . “This narrative is false,” Smith explains. That may have been the case early in Kennedy’s tenure, the judge writes, but the coach then “added to his prayers for the increasingly public and audible element.” next about seven years‘ – after which school officials learned he had prayed with students in the locker room and invited others to join him at the 50-yard line after the game. “He was only disciplined after BSD tried in vain to reach an agreement with him after he demanded (in a letter from his lawyer) the right to pray in the center of the football field immediately after the conclusion of games while the players were on the pitch was field and the crowd was still in the stands,” adds the judge.

But wait, it gets worse. As the records in this case reflect, Coach Kennedy then “made publicity in the area’s largest newspaper and on local and national television stations that he intended to defy orders from BSD not to pray publicly with his players while he was still.” is on duty despite announcing it will lose his job as a result,” Smith writes. “As he announced, immediately after the conclusion of the first game after mailing his attorney’s letter, Kennedy prayed aloud in the middle of the football field, surrounded by players, members of the opposing team, parents, a local politician and members of the news media with television cameras recording the event , all of whom had been informed of Kennedy’s intended actions through local news and social media.”

This broader picture of the ordeal Kennedy inflicted on others is critical, as public school districts have struggled, at least until now, to conform to the First Amendment’s recognition that public institutions should not endorse or oppose any particular religion. But for this Supreme Court, that is no longer a primary concern. Here, the real villain is the school district, which took its obligation to remain religiously neutral in the eyes of its constituents too seriously and instead disciplined the coach to train his own Right. If there’s a conflict between these competing First Amendment values ​​– language, religion, and the church-state barrier — Gorsuch suggests they’re just a fixture of the county’s own imagination. “In truth, there is no conflict between the constitutional orders before us,” writes Gorsuch. “There is only the ‘mere shadow’ of a conflict, a wrong choice based on a wrong interpretation of the settlement clause.”

Sotomayor, unconvinced at all by Gorsuch’s First Amendment mashup, let alone his interpretation of the facts, calls foul, noting what many saw as the Supreme Court’s increasing penchant for individual litigants asserting religious rights while ignoring those who could do this or have no religious beliefs but believe that the government or its agents should not take sides and take us with them. “The court is now taking a different tack, again looking almost exclusively to the freedom of practice clause to protect individual religious practice while making short work of the founding clause’s ban on state religious practice,” writes Sotomayor.

As in the case of the ban on Muslims, Sotomayor has long held strong anti-establishment positions, while the other Liberals, Breyer and Kagan, have been more cautious in their views of what the religion clauses require, sometimes aligning themselves with their Conservative peers where this is the case the case is that the damage to the separation of church and state looks more like a small crack. But here, as in last week’s opinion criticizing a Maine program that excluded certain religious schools from public funding, the three judges spoke with one voice. They even had the presence of mind to involve her visual evidence about what exactly Kennedy was doing at the competitive soccer games.

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