Home Christian News After Supreme Court Backs Praying Coach, No Sweeping Changes

After Supreme Court Backs Praying Coach, No Sweeping Changes

FILE - Former Bremerton High School assistant football coach Joe Kennedy stands on the field at Bremerton Memorial Stadium, Nov. 5, 2015. After the June 27, 2022 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of the high school football coach’s right to pray on the field after games, there were predictions of sweeping consequences from across the ideological spectrum. But three months after the decision, there’s no sign that large numbers of coaches are following Kennedy’s high-profile example. (Larry Steagall/Kitsap Sun via AP, File)

Across the ideological spectrum, there were predictions of dramatic consequences when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a public high school football coach’s right to pray on the field after games.

Yet three months after the decision — and well into the football season — there’s no sign that large numbers of coaches have been newly inspired to follow Joseph Kennedy’s high-profile example.

“I don’t think there has been a noticeable uptick in these sorts of situations,” said Chris Line, an attorney for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which advocates for the separation of church and state.

“But the real issue is not going to be the number, because there’s always going to be people like that who want to use their position to push religion on other people,” Line said. “The difference now is whether school districts are going to do the right thing about it.”

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The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 for Kennedy on June 27, saying the Washington state coach had a constitutional right to pray at the 50-yard-line. The conservative justices were in the majority and the liberals in dissent.

In a phone interview, Kennedy and his attorneys at First Liberty Institute, a Christian legal group, lauded the ruling. But the former assistant coach said he hasn’t seen “really any difference, good or bad” since June. As far as football games go, he said, “it seems to be pretty much the same.”

“I think everybody’s trying to figure out what’s next and especially at the high school level ’cause this came out right before the season,” he said.

A majority of U.S. adults approve of the Supreme Court’s decision, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

The poll shows 54% of Americans approve of the ruling, while 22% disapprove and 23% hold neither opinion. The survey also shows that solid majorities think a coach leading a team in prayer (60%), a player leading a team in prayer (64%) and a coach praying on the field without asking the team to join in (71%) should all be allowed in public high school sports.

Kennedy began coaching at Bremerton High near Seattle in 2008. He initially prayed alone on the 50-yard line at the end of games. Students started joining him, and over time he began delivering short, inspirational talks with religious references. Kennedy did that for years and also led students in locker room prayers. When the school district learned what he was doing in 2015, it asked him to stop out of concerns of a possible lawsuit over students’ religious freedom rights.

Kennedy stopped leading prayers in the locker room and on the field, but wanted to continue kneeling and praying on the field after games. The school asked him not to do so while still “on duty” as a coach. When he continued, it put him on paid leave. The head coach of the varsity team later recommended he not be rehired because, among other things, he failed to follow district policy.