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What are the rules of prayer at school? The court is considering the case of a football coach

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 What are the rules of prayer at school?  The court is considering the case of a football coach

The Supreme Court on Monday reviewed the rights to freedom of speech and religious freedom of teachers, coaches and students during a case that could rewrite the rules of prayer in public schools.

For nearly two hours of debate, judges debated at what point a private act of faith becomes a government-approved religion and how far school districts should go to protect young people from potential pressure to engage in religious expression.

Right, Kennedy v. Bremerton, the focus of Joe Kennedy, a football coach who got into trouble because of prayers on the 50-yard line after the games. His former employer, Bremerton County School in Washington, D.C., believes his actions constituted a public rather than a private speech and illegally violated the Constitution’s clause.

Although judges were asked to consider Kennedy’s specific desire to pray on the 50-yard line, much of Monday’s discussion focused on other, hypothetical scenarios that raise similar legal issues.

Judge Sonia Satamayor wondered if the class teacher could read the Bible or say a prayer before the bell.

Referee Brett Cavanaugh asked if the coach could cross before a football match.

Judge Amy Connie Barrett asked about the teacher’s ability to organize a youth meeting at his home.

Judge Clarence Thomas wanted to know whether the coach who prays on the field should be treated equally and the coach who kneels during the anthem.

These hypotheses – and the lawyers’ answers – have shown how difficult it is to formulate a simple and clear legal standard. Every year in the courtroom and in schools across the country, stakeholders have had and have very different ideas about what the First Amendment allows.

The judges acknowledged this confusion at several points during the oral debate. Some have questioned whether it is time to repeal past legal standards such as “Lemon test”, Or offer new guidelines to determine whether a school illegally forces its students to engage in religious activities.

Past ordinances on prayer in schools tended to focus on the concept of coercion, and judges sought to determine whether students were being pressured to participate in religious activities. Fearing coercion, the Supreme Court has ruled in recent decades against prayers offered from the stage at graduation ceremonies and prayers offered through a loudspeaker at school football games.

However, a conversation during Monday’s hearing showed that coercion is more difficult to identify than it seems. Referees and lawyers on both sides agreed that a football coach cannot force his players to pray with him or show any commitment to students who share his faith. But they disagreed over whether praying in solitude in the presence of young people and allowing them to join if they wanted to be equally concerned.

Richard B. Katsky, speaking on behalf of the Bremerton County School, said the court should focus on making young players willing to do almost anything to stay in the good favor of their coach. In these circumstances, even subtle pressure to participate in prayer after the game is legally important, he said.

“Students can reasonably understand that you have to go together to get along,” Katski said.

The coach’s lawyer, on the other hand, argued that coercion should not cover every activity that students can emulate. By that standard, a coach would not be able to wear a T-shirt for his favorite NFL team or have ashes on his forehead on Ash Wednesday, Paul B. Clement said.

If the emphasis is on outlaw activities that students can copy to benefit, “this is a recipe for depriving freedom of speech altogether,” he said.

Clement, Katski and the judges also discussed what is considered a government speech. Clement argued that Kennedy’s prayers were private acts that had just taken place on the field. Katski argued that a smart observer would believe that the coach’s actions were supported by the school, and thus officials were right to intervene.

Above this and other discussions, both sides disagreed on the extent of the situation to be considered by the court. Clement wants the final decision to focus on Kennedy’s quiet, quick and individual prayers, while Katski has repeatedly stressed that the coach has in the past carried the vocal group’s prayers and encouraged other people to join him on the field.

At the district and district court levels, the judges agreed that these additional details mattered, and ruled that the field prayers were a public demonstration rather than a private religious act. On Monday, more liberal Supreme Court judges were interested in maintaining the victory of the lower district school district court.

“I don’t know of any … religion that requires you to go to the 50-yard line to pray,” Satamayor said.

Many of the more conservative judges, by contrast, seemed to accept the coach’s version of events.

“I don’t understand why the court couldn’t say (the decisions of past school prayers) logically treats the locker room and huddles, but they’re not going to go beyond that,” Cavanaugh said.

The Kennedy-Bremerton trial is expected by early July.

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