Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Freedom to Pray

            The liberty principle for this Freedom Friday concerns that fact that the right to pray is protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. The act of praying is the activation of two freedoms that are protected by the First Amendment – the freedom to exercise religion and the freedom to speak.

            Chris Henry explains that Coach JoeKennedy was fired by the Bremerton School District because he knelt momentarily on the fifty-yard line after the game was over. It was a personal prayer by the coach and did not include any students. The school district has an “explicit ban against school staff praying on the field after games or anywhere at school-sanctioned events they could be observed by students.” Kennedy was put on administrative leave in 2015 and did not have his contract renewed in 2016. 

            Kennedy obviously believes that he was wrongfully fired because he hired lawyers to fight his battle. A lower court ruled that he was not wrongfully fired, so he took his case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Seattle. A panel of judges turned down his appeal, so his lawyers asked for a hearing before the full Ninth Circuit court. This petition was turned down in January. Kennedy took his battle to the next court, the Supreme Court of the United States.

            Michael Berry explains in an article at The Daily Signal that the Supreme Court decided last week that the justices would not review Kennedy’s case. Even though the Supreme Court will not hear the case now, there is hope that it will hear it sometime in the future. 

In a relatively rare move, four of the court’s justices – Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh – issued a statement explaining that the court cannot make a decision on whether to hear Kennedy’s appeal because important factual questions remain unresolved. And depending on how those questions are answered, the court may revisit the case.

            Berry shows that the justices needed more information before they could decide about taking the case. This says nothing about whether or not they will take the case or if they think it is a good case. They are simply saying that they need more information in order to make a decision. The justices did not stop there but expressed “serious concern over the lower court’s decision and its implications for the First Amendment rights of teachers and coaches.”

Alito explained that “the 9th Circuit’s understanding of the free speech rights of public school teachers is troubling and may justify review in the future…. If this case were before us as an appeal within our mandatory jurisdiction, our clear obligation would be to vacate” the 9th Circuit’s decision.

The four justices also took issue with the lower court’s rationale that “public school teachers and coaches may be fired if they engage in any expression that the school does not like while they are on duty, and the 9th Circuit appears to regard teachers and coaches as being on duty at all times form the moment they report for work to the moment they depart, provided that they are within the eyesight of students.”

            Again, Berry explains the response of the justices. He says that the four justices are concerned about Kennedy’s freedom of speech being denied, but they seem to be more concerned about his freedom of religious liberty.

“What is perhaps most troubling about the Ninth Circuit’s opinion,” wrote Alito, “is language that can be understood to mean that a coach’s duty to serve as a good role model requires the coach to refrain from any manifestation of religious faith – even when the coach is plainly not on duty.”

            The 9th Circuit, according to Berry, declares that “any action by a public school coach (or a teacher) that even hints at being religious in nature, even when they’re not on the job, is a good enough reason to fire that coach or teacher. He says that if the decision is allowed to stand, it will prevent any teacher or coach “from exercising their First Amendment rights anytime.” This could apply to a Jewish coach being fired for wearing a yarmulke, a Muslim teacher for covering her head, or a Christian from wearing a religious necklace.

            There is still hope that freedom of religion and freedom of speech will be protected and Coach Kennedy will be coaching football again. Meanwhile, we need to remember that the football game is not over until after the fourth quarter, and Coach Kennedy’s case is at half time.

            I believe that Coach Kennedy has a right to pray wherever he desires to pray. I believe that this freedom is guaranteed by the First Amendment. However, I cannot say that I agree with his decision to kneel in prayer for any length of time in front of a crowd. I believe that prayer is private matter between the person and God and should be carried out in private. The only exception to this rule for me is when a person is praying for a group, such as in a meeting or for all the spectators at a game.

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