Supreme Court’s new ruling raises questions about prayer in schools in Alabama

Published: Jun. 27, 2022 at 5:55 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 27, 2022 at 6:42 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Today, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a high school coach fired after praying on the field at high school football games.

Joseph Kennedy says the Bremerton School District in Washington state violated his religious rights by not allowing him to pray on the field. In a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court agreed with Kennedy.

But what does this mean when it comes to prayer in schools in Alabama? A former federal judge and full-time professor John Carroll says the case won’t change much for students here.

“Private religious activity is perfectly fine. Governmentally sponsored religious activity is not fine,” says Carroll.

But organizations like Freedom From Religion Foundation are worried about today’s ruling impacting the rights of children relating to the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion.

Patrick Elliott with the foundation called it “a very concerning decision.”

“I think the implications are going to be felt by public school students where you may have teachers or coaches try to push their religion on others people’s children. We think that’s wrong and violates their First Amendment right,” said Elliott

Carroll says there are still several laws in place to enforce the separation between church and state.

“I find it hard to believe that the Supreme Court would say a prayer in schools is okay,” says Judge Carroll. “Because that will be tremendously coercive. If you are a Jewish student or a Muslim student and your teacher prayers Christian prayer every day that would cause serious problems.”

Although the Supreme Court has rules in place for schools and religion, Elliott says parents and school systems should pay attention and make sure students are protected.

“This may involve the scope of teacher-coaches”, says Elliott. “What can they do? I think schools really should pay attention to that and make sure they’re protecting the rights of students.”

WBRC reached out to Jefferson County Schools Superintendent Dr. Walter Gonsoulin to see if this ruling would impact a decision made in April by the district to stop prayer over intercom systems before sporting events. He responded with the following:

“The Jefferson County Board of Education previously approved a resolution in support of Coach Kennedy and the voluntary expression of religious viewpoints. As we have stated this board of education and the superintendent fully supports the right of students and all members of the education community to pray and engage in voluntary religious expression in school settings. We are grateful to the court for its ruling in this case. Our legal team is currently reviewing the ruling to understand its full scope.”


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