With yesterday’s ruling the Supreme Court made clear what has always been obvious: freedom of religion in America only applies to Christianity.
Coach Kennedy, who was fired for leading prayers at football games by the Bremerton, WA school district) was not fired for quietly praying, as the six conservative justices claim. Kennedy engaged in group prayers in the lockerroom, held public prayers at midfield, talked about his prayers in the media, and encouraged participation in his prayers.
For years, the school district was too weak and Christian to take appropriate action. But after Kennedy engaged in a public spectical of a prayer at a homecoming game that involved both teams, other school employees, members of the state legislature, and members of the media, the school district had to act.
Imagine being a Muslim, Jewish, or even an atheist football player on Kennedy’s team. Your coach is leading your team in prayer in the lockerroom and on the field. The other team, school employees, and even state legislators are participating. How do you feel? How could you possibly feel part of the community or even respected?
Also, there are the realities that coaches have control over athletes in ways going beyond high school football. Coaches decide whether you play, how much you play, and how often you get the ball. Coaches can either recommend you to colleges or not. If you were a football player on Kennedy’s team, it would be hard, especially for a teenager, to avoid some attempt at assimilation.
All of that and we haven’t even gotten to the peer pressure. Anyone who has ever been a teenager knows the pressure for social acceptance is real. For some it is a pressure they can’t handle under ideal circumstances. Imagine if a child has to navigate that while being subjected to a strong majority of their community participating in something they don’t believe.
The majority’s ruling deliberately, maliciously downplays what Kennedy was doing, what he was allowed and encouraged to do, and the impact of forcing majority culture, values, and religion on those who don’t share the majority’s culture, religion, and values can do to a child.
The truth is the six conservative justices wanted to ensure what the founding fathers intended–not what many Americans pretend was intended by the Freedom of Religion Clause. Like everything else in the constitution and those rights supposedly justifying American independence in the Declaration of Independence, the rights are only intended for white Christians (especially rich, white Christians).
The school district got in trouble, in part, because it enabled Kennedy. It didn’t protect the First Amendment rights of its non-Christian students until Kennedy engaged in a shameless display of Christian prayer that most of the community supported. Had the majority cared enough about the rights of the minority and upheld the constitution years earlier, Kennedy may not have become so empowered. There is always a price to pay for cowardice. But when you are charged with protecting the rights of children and your cowardice and probably your prejudice cause you to fail your duty, Things get out of hand.
Kennedy and the justices that agreed with him are morally wrong and don’t care about the rights of non-Christians. But we cannot forget the weakness of the school district. Protecting minority rights isn’t something a good person does only when the violation of minority rights is so obvious that acting is required.