Gorsuch rejected the local school district’s concerns that in a public school setting Kennedy’s prayers and Christian-infused speeches 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.
“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.
The justices overturned a lower court’s ruling siding with the school district, which suspended Kennedy in 2015 after he repeatedly defied directions from officials to stop the post-game prayers while on duty and rebuffed their offers for him to use private locations in the school as an alternative.
“This is just so awesome. All I’ve ever wanted was to be back on the field with my guys,” Kennedy said in a statement issued by First Liberty Institute, a conservative religious rights group that helped represent him.
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Rachel Laser, president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which represented the school district, said the Supreme Court has “continued its assault on church-state separation” driven by the interests of conservative Christians.
“As the network of religious extremists and their political allies behind this case celebrate victory, we can expect them to try to expand this dangerous precedent – further undermining everyone’s right to live as ourselves and believe as we choose,” Laser added.