JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Another major decision Monday from the Supreme Court, ruling in favor of religious plaintiffs.
It centers around a former Washington State high school football coach who sued his school district claiming it violated his constitutional rights when it told him to stop praying with students midfield after games.
The majority opinion reaffirms First Amendment rights, while the dissent warns of a disservice to the country’s longstanding separation of church and state.
The former coach, Joseph Kennedy, says he believes the ruling is great for America.
“People of faith or no faith – everybody has the same rights,” Kennedy said. “That is what the Constitution is all about.”
The Bremerton school district said it was following the law and would work with its attorneys to remain a welcoming, inclusive environment for all.
But, in the Tri-Cities, athletic leaders say they don’t expect much to change based on Monday’s ruling.
“I don’t think that will change anything,” said Science Hill Athletic Director Keith Turner. “If you have students that don’t want to be a part of that, we’ve never made a big deal about that either. We just made sure that their freedoms weren’t impinged upon. We don’t make them do it. It’s just their choice.”
Turner says any religious activity is led by students.
“All our practices have always been in following the law, what the law allows, and that means that it has to be student-initiated and we’ve followed that practice my whole career and we’ve never really had any issues with that,” he said. “The students organize circles after the games and that sort of thing, or even the locker room before they come out…all those things we allow the students to do that.”
The football team at David Crockett High School says the Lord’s prayer as a unit before games.
“We’ve had people in the past that have stepped out for whatever reason they didn’t want to be a part of that. We don’t ever want to put anybody in a position that’s uncomfortable for them. Faith is not something that should be forced down your throat,” said DCHS head football coach Hayden Chandley. “You’ve got all these different kids and different backgrounds, even different ethnic groups, different religions coming together for one common goal and that’s the great thing about sports. Sports brings everybody to one common goal.”
Handley also oversees the school’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter.
“Anytime the freedom of religion is protected, I think it’s a great thing. Everybody should have the right to practice their faith in whatever capacity they feel lead to,” he said. “When a kid may ask me about my faith or may ask me about my religion because they’re interested because they see the way I do things, that gives an opening to be able to share your faith while not forcing that on someone.”
The ruling was 6-3 with Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissenting along with two others, calling the ruling “misguiding.”
“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 said in her dissent.
“Today’s decision will hurt vulnerable public school children who deserve protection from religious intrusion,” said the foundation’s legal director, Rebecca S. Markert.
The Fellowship of Christian Athletes issued this statement:
“We are extremely pleased that coaches and athletes around the nation are able to continue to freely lift up their praise and prayers to God. A special thanks to Coach Kennedy for his courage and dedication to represent the thousands of coaches who desire to express their faith appropriately. May the Lord continue to embolden each of us for the sake of His Kingdom and may His Word move the hearts of coaches and all whom they influence around the world.”Shane Williamson, FCA President and CEO
News Channel 11 reached out to the TSSAA, which said it does not have a comment on the ruling.