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Supreme Court prayer ruling continues to blur the line between church and state

Posted: 5:01 PM, Jun 27, 2022
Updated: 2022-06-27 22:42:34-04
Joe Kennedy

WASHINGTON, D.C. (KERO) — A recent decision by the United States Supreme Court lowered the bar in regards to the separation between church and state. Monday the high court sided in favor of a Washington state high school football coach who got fired for praying at the 50-yard line after games.

The justices ruled six to three that the school district violated Joe Kennedy's First Amendment rights saying the coach's prayers amounted to private speech, protected by the First Amendment.

In the majority opinion, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote that the decision was based on "mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and suppression, for religious and nonreligious views alike." Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote the dissenting opinion saying 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."

As this decision came down 23ABC took a look into what this means now for religious practice in public schools across the country including California.

The decision does not mean that a teacher could simply decide to start class with a prayer. But for some, it can push the limits of what we think of when we say separation of church and state, which according to political analyst Dr. Jeanine Kraybill has always been inconsistent.

Across the country, public entities can not have state-sponsored forms of religion, which is what the school in the Kennedy vs. Bremerton School District case was arguing. However, the majority opinion from the courts said the coach utilized religion in a personal way, not related to his employment as a coach.

Impact for religious expression in public schools

"In terms of exactly what that might do in California and other states, I think it opens up for challenge, and people that work in government might feel more comfortable to have more outright showings of personal religious beliefs and test those lines," says Dr. Kraybill.

Kraybill adds that by ruling in favor of the coach they also overturned Lemon vs Kurtzman which is what had been used since the 1970s to decide if the religious activity could not stand in a public entity.

Dr. Kraybill also says this decision is continuing the pattern of the majority of the justices viewing the constitution in a historical manner. She says because there is a fine balance between what is a personal religious expression and state-sponsored, staff needs to be careful in terms of the environment of the event and how they present themselves.

Meanwhile, the California Department of Education says they are reviewing their policies to see if any have to change.