Another point of frustration for many legal experts is that they believe the Supreme Court seems to have misrepresented some of the pertinent facts of Kennedy’s case in their decision. The ruling often characterized Kennedy’s prayer as “quiet” or “private”; however, there are photos of Kennedy praying while surrounded by students on the 50-yard line, in what can be construed as a pretty public act.
Kennedy has insisted he allowed students to decide if they wanted to join in and did not play favorites based on their participation. But according to the principal of Kennedy’s former school, at least one parent said his son “felt compelled to participate,” per the principal’s testimony, even though the player was an atheist. The student athlete worried that “he wouldn’t get to play as much if he didn’t participate.”
As reported by The Washington Post, Kennedy had been praying after football games since he was hired as a coach in 2008. In 2015, an opposing coach told the Bremerton High School principal that Kennedy asked that coach’s team to join him in prayer, which caused the school district to begin an inquiry into Kennedy. Later that year, Kennedy continued to pray at several other games, sometimes joined by members of the opposing team or other members of the community. After repeated warnings from the district, he was suspended in October 2015.
“A majority of the Supreme Court flatly and deliberately misrepresented the facts of the case,” Elizabeth Sepper, a professor of law at the University of Texas at Austin, tells Teen Vogue. “The opinion describes quiet, private, off-duty prayer by a school employee. But the photos give lie to that claim, showing the football coach praying on the 50-yard line, right after the game, surrounded by players, and holding up a helmet with the school’s team logo.”
Though all students could be impacted by the Kennedy decision, the legal experts we have spoken with express explicit concern for students from marginalized religions who could potentially be forced to adhere to the religious majority in school. “Kids from minority religions will be most impacted,” says Sepper. “Experiences will vary depending on the city and state. In much of the Deep South, Catholics and Mormons, for example, may encounter public school teachers and coaches who express hostility toward their faith.”
Many experts believe that the Kennedy ruling is concerning both in the short-term and in its long-term implications for the Court’s ability to use religious freedom grounds to justify laws or activities that have been previously deemed unconstitutional. “I think we’re likely to see more legislation that imposes the views of religious majorities, at least at the level of local and state governments,” says Schwartzman.
“And when religious conservatives aren’t in the majority,” Schwartzman continues, “they will demand religious exemptions, which this Court has been eager to grant, even when those exemptions impose serious harms on other people. In short, under this Court, there will be more government support and solicitude for the beliefs and practices of religious conservatives at the expense of the rights and freedoms of others.”
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