Justice Gorsuch called a high school football coach's on-field prayer 'quiet' and 'personal' as the Supreme Court sided with religious rights. Sotomayor said that description 'misconstrues the facts.'




Justice Neil Gorsuch / Justice Sonia Sotomayor
Justice Neil Gorsuch / Justice Sonia Sotomayor  
  • The Supreme Court sided with an ex-high school coach who was fired for leading prayers after football games.

  • Justice Niel Gorsuch wrote that the coach conducted a "quiet, personal prayer."

  • But Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted the coach-led prayers included numerous players, saying Gorsuch's characterization "misconstrues the facts."

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor called out her colleague Neil Gorsuch, saying his decision siding with a praying ex-football coach "misconstrues the facts" of the case.

The Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision handed down Monday, sided with a former high school football coach who was fired from his position for leading prayers at the 50-yard line immediately following games.

Justice Neil Gorsuch delivered the majority opinion for the case, Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, writing: "The Constitution and the best of our traditions counsel mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and suppression, for religious and nonreligious views alike."

In his opinion, Gorsuch wrote that the coach, Joe Kennedy, led a "quiet, personal prayer."

But in her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said Kennedy's prayers weren't as minor as the court's opinion claimed.

"The record reveals that Kennedy had a longstanding practice of conducting demonstrative prayers on the 50-yard line of the football field. Kennedy consistently invited others to join his prayers and for years led student athletes in prayer at the same time and location," Sotomayor wrote. "The Court ignores this history."

Sotomayor also included a photo of one of Kennedy's post-game prayers in her dissent which shows a number of students gathered around him on the field.

She wrote that during this prayer on September 11, 2015, Kennedy "led a prayer out loud, holding up a player's helmet as the players kneeled around him."

Kennedy initially sued Bremerton School District, alleging their requests to stop his prayers were infringing on his First Amendment rights.

The district argued that they didn't oppose Kennedy praying, they just asked that he pray alone and away from students, even offering him the option to return to the field after students and other bystanders left the area following the games.

The school district said Kennedy's conduct could be perceived as a government endorsement of religion, which the First Amendment's establishment clause prohibits.

After multiple lower courts dismissed his legal challenges, Kennedy eventually turned to the Supreme Court, which took up his case and ultimately sided with him.

In her dissent, Sotomayor also ripped the court's decision as eroding the separation between church and state.

"The Court sets us further down a perilous path in forcing States to entangle themselves with religion, with all of our rights hanging in the balance," Sotomayor wrote. "As much as the Court protests otherwise, today's decision is no victory for religious liberty."

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