he U.S. Supreme Court on Monday expanded the religious rights of government employees by ruling in favour of a Christian former public high school football coach in Washington state.
The coach, Joseph Kennedy, had sued after being suspended from his job for refusing to stop leading prayers with players on the field after games.
In the latest of a series of Supreme Court rulings taking a broad view of religious liberty, the justices in a 6-3 decision sided with Kennedy.
He had until 2015 served as a part-time assistant football coach in the city of Bremerton and has since become a “cause celebre” for conservative Christian activists.
The court’s conservative justices were in the majority and its liberal members in dissent.
The ruling, authored by Justice Neil Gorsuch, rejected the local school district’s concerns that in a public school setting Kennedy’s prayers and Christian-infused speeches could be misconstrued.
It noted that his actions could be seen as coercive to students or a governmental endorsement of a particular religion in violation of the First Amendment’s so-called establishment clause.
The Supreme Court held that Kennedy’s actions were protected by his own rights under the First Amendment, which protects free speech and religious expression.
“Respect for religious expressions is indispensable to life in a free and diverse republic —- whether those expressions take place in a sanctuary or on a field, and whether they manifest through the spoken word or a bowed head,” Gorsuch wrote.