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What they’re saying about the coach prayer case

It’s ironic that at a time when the Right is suddenly so committed to “parental involvement” in public schooling they’ve taken up as a folk hero a public school employee who could be reasonably seen as “indoctrinating” unwilling students through coercive measures. . . . What the Kennedy case presents is a gateway into how the radical right begins to weaponize public education in an overt attempt to solidify white Christian authority, a favorite red-meat issue for their rabid and increasingly volatile base.

Danielle Moody, in her column, “Conservatives will use the fight over prayer in schools to attack diversity.”

The Daily Beast, 4-27-22


Contrary to what religious conservatives often seem to believe, the separation of church and state isn’t an attack on religious freedom but a defense of it. A person’s religious belief (or the lack of it) is a personal matter in which government should have no role. . . . Given the court’s rightward lean today, many believe justices might weaken the wall between government and religion. That would be a dangerous slippery slope for believers and nonbelievers alike.

Newspaper editorial, “Religion case will test if justices really are originalists, or just partisans.”

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 4-25-22


Every few months, another conservative Christian media darling arrives at the Supreme Court, claiming they have been victimized by oppressive government agents wielding the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause against them. And every time, they get a sympathetic hearing from the conservatives on the court. That’s because the court’s project to whittle the separation of church and state down to a sliver is proceeding inexorably in one direction. . . . The story the right tells about Kennedy is one of a humble, pious coach who wanted only to engage in private prayer after games and was persecuted by his employer as a result. That story is a complete distortion of the facts in this case. But it’s a common one, in which conservatives claim that if they are not allowed to impose their religion on others, then they have been victimized and the Constitution must bend to accommodate them.

Paul Waldman, in his column, “The Supreme Court’s threat to the separation of church and state.”

Washington Post, 4-26-22


So long as the public morality around democratic institutions is cast in terms of pencil pushers and rules, there will never again be a public health, education, child welfare, or other mandate that cannot be brushed aside with the argument that a lone person of faith is suffering under its heartless, bureaucratic strictures.

Dahlia Lithwick, in her article “The holy morality of the Supreme Court’s most sympathetic plaintiffs.”

Slate, 4-27-22


The hostility that we are seeing from these justices seems to reflect a perspective that separation has somehow been forced upon the court. . . . It’s very strange, because this is a principle that the court has roundly endorsed over the years, but now they act like it’s an alien concept.

. . . The court seems to be moving toward what we might call “one-sided separation,” committed mostly just to protecting religious communities against government regulation. . . . When it comes to government support of religion, religious expression the public square, I suspect we are going to see a very low and broken wall going forward.

Legal scholar Stephen K. Green, author of Separating Church and State: A History, as quoted in the article, “The decline of church-state separation.”

Religion and Politics, 4-26-22


Most likely, the court will leave in place some of the current rules against schools actively pressuring their students into religious behavior, while also taking a huge bite out of the Constitution’s Establishment Clause. . . . A majority of the justices seemed eager to shrink this constitutional provision significantly . . . At the very least, it appears likely that public school teachers, coaches and other school officials will gain some ability to subtly pressure students into religious activity that students, or their parents, may find objectionable.

Ian Millhiser, in his column, “The Religious Right had a great day in the Supreme Court.”

Vox.com, 4-25-22


Perhaps Coach Kennedy’s pastor — not his principal — should have counseled him not to lead postgame prayers with kids he has power over. These prayers were public, not private. They were teacher-planned, not student-led. . . . Emboldened conservative justices will open the door to more nominal, cultural Christianity. It seems that in the era of former President Donald Trump and his judges, that’s all so-called conservative Christians really want.

Jacob Lupfer, a self-described Christian, in his column, “The Supreme Court debates public prayer. So should we.”

Religion News Service, 4-26-22


To suggest that Coach Kennedy’s young players feel free to join, or not join, his prayer session is to simply ignore what anyone who’s played football well knows. Of necessity, coaches have coercive power. . . . High school players are especially beholden to their coach. They don’t want to jeopardize their playing time by displeasing him. Imagine being a 16-year-old kid on Coach Kennedy’s team. The game is over. He’s convening a meeting and giving a motivational speech. That’s what coaches do all the time. The players are crowding around him, there’s maybe even someone there who’s vying for the same position as you. Are you going to turn your back and skip the group meeting?

Former NFL player Frank Lambert,in his column, “A Steelers punter on church and state.”

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 4-21-22


The court is moving in the direction of encouraging religion to enter the public square and to infuse government. And there never has been a period since the 19th century when the court was that willing to just let the wall of separation between church and state down. . . . Religious and political or governmental institutions should stay as far apart as possible if the society is not to tear itself apart.

Laurence Tribe, professor of constitutional law at Harvard, as quoted in the article “The court and culture wars.”  

The New York Times, 5-2-22


Schoolchildren already face tremendous pressure to fit in. A coach shouldn’t add to that pressure by making them feel that following their religious tradition is a prerequisite for being part of the team. . . . Coaches, including the coach in this Supreme Court case, have every right to believe what they want. But students have rights to their religious freedom too, and it’s the duty of public school employees to protect those rights.

Carl Wilmsen, a labor activist specializing in social justice issues, in his column, “SCOTUS must protect religious freedom.”

The Progressive, 4-28-22