NewsWorldHow the United States Supreme Court is dismantling the...

How the United States Supreme Court is dismantling the separation of Church and State

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Protests grow against the Supreme Court in the US 3:33 (CNN) — The justices of the Supreme Court on Monday put themselves in the shoes of a football coach who wanted to pray in the center of the field after a party, over students who might feel pressured to join it, in an expansive decision focused on the “suppression” of religious voices. The 6-3 ruling against a Washington state school district that suspended coach Joseph Kennedy reinforces a modern judicial pattern that favors religious conservatives and a greater mix of church and state. Overall, the decision reflected the majority Conservative view that the voices of religious believers are being squelched. Justice Neil Gorsuch, early in his opinion for the court, raised his concern about “censorship and suppression.” These fears of religion under siege have also surfaced in previous decisions and in speeches by some justices off the bench. Monday’s ruling jeopardizes a series of decisions dating back to 1962 that have banned official prayer in schools. The ruling also comes less than a week after the same court, ideologically split 6-3, declared that states that subsidize private education must include religious schools. In both cases, the majority emphasized the First Amendment’s guarantee of “free exercise” and downplayed its prohibition of “establishment of religion” by the government. The majority of the court set aside the Bremerton school district’s contention that letting Kennedy pray at the 50-yard line would lead observers to think the district had impermissibly endorsed religion or exposed student athletes to coercion. The court dismissed the traditional “support” test out of hand, while at the same time downplaying the possibility of student coercion. The broadly worded decision is sure to invite more challenges from adherents of the religion and is likely to increase displays of religion in schools and other public places. “Respect for religious expressions is indispensable to life in a free and diverse Republic, whether those expressions take place in a sanctuary or in a field, and whether they are manifested through the spoken word or a head tilted,” Gorsuch wrote. “Here, a government entity sought to punish an individual for engaging in a brief, quiet, and personal religious observance doubly protected by the Free Exercise and Free Expression Clauses of the First Amendment,” he added. The gulf between the right and left of this court in religious cases has only widened since 2020, when Justice Amy Coney Barrett succeeded the late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Last week’s decision in a Maine case requiring more public funding for religious schools, authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, expanded on earlier rulings that public funds go to church schools. . When Roberts rejected the state’s practice of excluding religious schools from a funding program, he too emphasized free exercise interests over establishment concerns. “The State pays tuition for certain students in private schools, as long as the schools are not religious. That is discrimination against religion,” he wrote. “The interest of the State in fighting the establishment does not justify the enactment of laws that exclude some members of the community from a public benefit generally available due to their religious exercise.” Separately, the court has increasingly allowed religion-based employer exemptions from the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate and allowed Christian prayer before local government legislative meetings. Monday’s decision in Kennedy v. The Bremerton School District takes another leap in that direction, improving religious exercise. Gorsuch said the football coach was acting as a private person, not a school employee, when he prayed after the game. Most significantly for future cases, the Gorsuch majority said judges should avoid any investigation into whether a government may be supporting religion. Instead, she said, judges should look at “historic practices” and focus on the original meaning of the Constitution’s establishment clause. The dissenting justices countered that the majority approach undermines the separation of church and state. They said the prayer led by any school official “strike to the core of our constitutional protections for the religious freedom of students and their parents.” Can a woman who has an abortion go to jail? 2:06 Led by liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court dissenters said the majority had misread the facts of the case and failed to appreciate the extent to which students could alter their behavior to earn a coach’s approval, for example, to get more time in the field or letters of recommendation. To illustrate that Kennedy’s demeanor was far from calm and reclusive, they included photos of Kennedy surrounded by kneeling players in their review. The dissent, joined by liberal justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan, argued the majority’s ruling would water down religious freedom protections and decades of precedent banning school-sponsored prayer. Since the 1962 decision in Engel v. Vitale, this court has rejected school-sponsored prayers, dissenters noted. Back in 2000, judges invalidated a public school practice that allowed students to lead pregame prayers over a loudspeaker. Now, they concluded, the Supreme Court was charting “a different path,” one that favored religious exercise.
“This decision does a disservice to schools and the young citizens they serve,” Sotomayor declared, “as well as to our nation’s long-standing commitment to the separation of church and state.”

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