U.S. Supreme Court Finds High School Coach’s Postgame Prayers Covered by First Amendment – Employee Rights/Labour Relations
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Summary:The recent Supreme Court decision in Kennedy v. Bremerton School Districtt, 142 S. Ct. 2407 (June 27, 2022), is the latest to promote the free exercise of speech and religion over all other competing interests. In its June 27, 2022 opinion, the court’s conservative majority held that the First Amendment’s freedom of practice and freedom of speech clauses protected an individual engaging in personal religious observances from government retaliation, even when doing so on school property in a school-sponsored facility. an event. kennedy ruled that a coach can pray at the 50-yard line after a high school football game. The decision departs from previous Supreme Court case law established in Lemon vs. Kurtzman403 US 602 (1971), adhering to the separation of church and state, one of the founding principles of the United States.
In kennedy, Coach Kennedy knelt in prayer at the end of each game at the 50-yard line and said prayers of gratitude for “player safety, sportsmanship and spirited competition”. At first, Kennedy’s midfield prayers were alone, but over the years he has been joined by players, the public and even opposing teammates. Once the Bremerton School District learned of the practice, it sent Kennedy a letter stating that he was “free to engage in religious activity, including prayer, so long as it does not interfere with professional responsibilities”, but forbade students from joining him. . Kennedy sent a letter to school officials explaining that his “sincere religious beliefs” compelled him to continue his “post-game personal prayer.” Kennedy was placed on administrative leave for failing to follow district policies. The school did not rehire him the following season.
In his lawsuit, Kennedy asserted his right “to act in accordance with his sincere religious beliefs,” alleging violations under Title VII and the free speech and free exercise clauses of the First Amendment. The district court denied his request for a preliminary injunction ordering his reinstatement, and the Ninth Circuit upheld. Both courts held that Kennedy was a public employee and therefore his speech was not protected by the First Amendment. Kennedy’s petition for
certiorari to the Supreme Court was eventually granted.
Judge Neil Gorsuch authored the 6-3 decision, rejecting the school district’s argument that allowing Kennedy’s prayers violates the Establishment Clause, which establishes the separation of church and state. In doing so, kennedy reversed
Lemonprecedent set 50 years ago. Lemonestablished a three-part test, focusing on religious purpose, religious effect, and government-religion entanglement, or the “approval test”. In contrast, kennedyargued that the focus should be on “the analysis of history and tradition”, which considers what the Founding Fathers would have considered a violation of the Establishment Clause. By applying this test, the kennedy The court ruled that the post-game prayer was outside the scope of Kennedy’s coaching duties and was therefore private and protected. Because the school district’s policy targeted Kennedy’s speech on the basis of its religious content, it came under scrutiny and, contrary to precedents warning of the danger of student coercion, the Court ruled that there was no compelling state interest in restricting Kennedy’s speech. protected behavior. The Court viewed this situation as the government punishing Kennedy for engaging in personal religious practice, rather than the government endorsing the religious beliefs of its employees.
kennedy argued that “public schools are a place where everyone should learn to tolerate the religious expression of others as part of living in a pluralistic society.”
In her dissent, Justice Sotomayor, joined by Justices Breyer and Kagan, concluded that the majority decision was “misguided” because it “elevates the rights of an individual” who has voluntarily accepted public employment over the rights students, who are forced to attend school.
Conclusion of the employers:
This decision represents an ideological shift in the relationship between Church and State, and public entities and their employees. Long-standing precedent has established that the state cannot support or promote employee religious expression, especially in public schools and universities. Thus, public schools and universities could regulate religion-based communication between employees and students. But kennedy change that. Now, public schools and universities must ensure that policies are neutral and generally applicable to all expressions without specifically targeting religious expression. It will be increasingly difficult for school districts that wish to remain neutral or protect students from religious pressures to enforce policies that unduly restrict employees’ religious speech and expression. Although it remains to be seen whether
by Kennedy holding will be confined to education only, the Supreme Court’s change represented by kennedyshould require all public employers to exercise caution in disciplining employees. Private employers operating in states with statutory mandates incorporating the First Amendment should also consider
kennedy to understand its impact.
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