SCOTUS Rules in Favor of Praying Coach

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The Supreme Court of the United States has sided with a former high school football coach who lost his job for praying on the field after a game. 

On Monday, the court ruled that that the free exercise and free speech clauses of the First Amendment protect an individual engaging in religious expression.

Justice Neil Gorsuch delivered the opinion for the majority in the case, known as Kennedy v. Bremerton School District.

"The Constitution and the best of our traditions counsel mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and suppression, for religious and nonreligious views alike," Gorsuch wrote, as reported by CBS.

The dispute involving former Bremerton High School assistant football coach Joseph Kennedy. Lawyers for Kennedy argued the school district's punishment for his religious expression violated his constitutional rights. The school district warned Kennedy when it learned of his postgame prayers that he likely violated the establishment clause, which prohibits the government from endorsing a religion.

Kennedy first began praying after football games in August 2008 after his first game as coach of the Bremerton Knights. At first the coach prayed alone, briefly thanking God after the final whistle, then players began to join the coach after games, with participation varying each week.

At least one parent said his son "felt compelled to participate" out of fear he would lose playing time, CBS reported.

The praying also evolved from brief, private expressions into motivational speeches with religious references.

Kennedy's practice of praying on the field continued without issue for seven years. The Bremerton School District learned what the coach was doing in September 2015 when an opposing team's coach told the high school's principal that Kennedy asked his players to join him for the post-game prayer and he "thought it was pretty cool" that the district would allow such an activity.

That began a battle between Kennedy and the school district. Kennedy stopped the postgame prayers after the district told him his talks with students had to be secular and his future religious activity had to be separate from any student activity, but he resumed the practice in October 2015.

The school district then punished Kennedy, placing him on administrative leave for violating its directives, and Bremerton's athletic director recommended he not be rehired for the following football season, citing a failure to follow district policy and supervise student-athletes after games.

Kennedy chose not to reapply for his coaching position at Bremerton High School and sued the district in August 2016 for violating his First Amendment rights.

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