Sotomayor rebukes SCOTUS for ignoring “decades” of precedent with school prayer ruling

Liberal Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Monday accused her conservative peers of challenging “decades-old” precedents surrounding church-state separation after the majority ruled in favor of a former Washington state high school football coach had, who had repeatedly prayed with him after the game team on the field.

“Today’s decision goes beyond a mere misreading of the records,” Sotomayor wrote in a fierce dissent. “This decision does a disservice to the schools and the young citizens they serve, as well as to our nation’s longstanding commitment to the separation of church and state.”

The decision, passed by a vote of 6 to 3, caused the court to split along ideological lines, with all three Liberals dissenting.

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In their unanimous opinion, the conservative wing of the court argued that football coach Joseph Kennedy engaged in a form of private speech protected by the First Amendment. As a result, the court ruled that the school district’s subsequent decision to ban Kennedy from praying violated the constitution.

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“Both the free practice and free speech clauses of the First Amendment protect statements like Mr. Kennedy’s,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the Majority Opinion. “A proper understanding of the founding clause of the amendment also does not require the government to single out private religious speeches because of particular resentment. The Constitution and the best of our traditions advise mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and repression, of both religious and non-religious views. “

Central to the court’s discussion was whether Kennedy had the right to pray at the 50-yard line, which may have been a public demonstration of religious belief. Throughout the trial, Kennedy maintained that his post-game prayers were personal statements of faith and that he did not expect or demand that the students participate. However, the court’s liberal wing raised doubts as to whether his players may have felt compelled to join him, largely due to his position as their authority figure.

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Last year, a federal appeals court sided with the school district, arguing that Kennedy’s account was “fraudulent,” which Sotomoyaor reiterated in her dissent.

“The records show that Kennedy had a long-standing practice of performing demonstrative prayers at the 50-yard line of the football field,” she wrote. “Kennedy constantly invited others to join his prayers and for years led student athletes to prayer at the same time and place. The court ignores this story. The court also ignores the serious disruption to school events caused by Kennedy’s conduct.”

Monday’s decision is just the latest in the court’s pattern of tearing down the wall between church and state.

Last week, the judiciary ruled by a 6-3 vote that taxpayers’ money — used by Maine lawmakers to fund the state’s tuition assistance program — should not be withheld from students attending religious schools. According to NPR, the decision effectively overturned the policies of 37 different states that prevent taxpayer money from being funneled to religious schools.

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