washington d.c. – Members of the Project 21 Black leadership network hailed a historic victory for religious freedom and free speech, as the U.S. Supreme Court today ruled that a school district fired at mistakenly a high school football coach who had prayed at the end of a game.
“This decision marks a return to the true history of America and its founding based on God’s values and principles,” said Reverend David Lowery, Jr., a member of Project 21.
In the case of Joseph A. Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, Coach Kennedy, a high school football coach, was fired because he prayed on the 50-yard line of the public school field after games. The reason for his dismissal from the school system was for “engaging in demonstrative religious activity” while “on duty”.
“As a former football player, I remember we always had prayer before and after games. We prayed for safety and strength on the pitch. We asked God to protect us from serious injury” , Lowery added, “It is our right as American citizens under the First Amendment to exercise our religious beliefs. Today’s judges honored what was written in the law.
In the majority view, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote that the Establishment Clause of the Constitution prevents the government from being able to “single out private religious speech for particular disfavor”. He continued, “The Constitution and the best of our traditions advise mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and repression, for religious and non-religious views.”
Project 21 helped get Coach Kennedy’s case past the goal line and past the judges with a amici curiae (“friend of the court”) legal brief asking the Court to consider the case. Project 21 was a co-friends on a brief filed by Advancing American Freedom — an organization founded by former Vice President Mike Pence — and the Young America’s Foundation.
The brief called the lower court’s decision against Coach Kennedy “deceptively absolute.” He further noted that it was “absurd to label an act of obvious personal gratitude and humility constitutionally prohibited governmental speech” and that expressions of personal speech by Americans cannot violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution “simply because the public can see them. ”
“The First Amendment protects the right of every American to freely exercise his faith. Today we confirmed that everyone includes public school coaches,” said Project 21 Steven Mosley. “Prayer is essential to the Christian faith, because we are called to pray without ceasing. Coach Kennedy’s practice of praying after football games should have been celebrated as an image of religious diversity. Instead, he was discriminated against and fired for simply exercising his First Amendment right. It’s great to see the Supreme Court rule that Christians – and all people of faith – have the right to pray where they live, work, worship and play.
The brief further stated:
“Respect for religious expressions is essential to life in a free and diverse Republic – whether those expressions take place in a sanctuary or on the land, and whether they are manifested in speech or with the head bowed. Here, a government entity sought to punish an individual for engaging in brief, silent, and personal religious observance doubly protected by the freedom of exercise and freedom of speech clauses of the First Amendment. And the only valid justification the government offered for its retaliation rested on an erroneous view that it had a duty to unearth and suppress religious observances even if it permits comparable secular speech. The Constitution neither mandates nor condones this kind of discrimination.
“A football manager praying alone on the 50-yard line of the pitch outside of official play and outside of his official coaching duties is an obvious exercise of personal religious belief. We shouldn’t even be here,” said Project 21 member Joe Mobley. “If students, athletes, players from other teams, or even the occasional passerby wanted to join us, they could. Otherwise, they wouldn’t. The fact that Coach Kennedy’s right to pray has even been questioned is a sign that America is on the wrong track.
“The Constitution is clear that ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,'” Mobley added. “This means there are no state-sponsored religions, nor state-mandated religious activity ‘or prohibiting the free exercise thereof’ – which means there are no “No government restrictions on religious activities. None. Zero. Even the most casual observer should take note of the obvious double standard that has been applied to religions deemed oppressive – namely Christianity.