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June 27, 2022 2:55 pm
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‘A Grim Day in Education’: US Jewish Groups Condemn Supreme Court Decision in Public Prayer Case

avatar by Algemeiner Staff

 

Police officers walk outside the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC. Photo: Reuters/Evelyn Hockstein/File Photo

Several US Jewish organizations responded gloomily to Monday’s decision of the US Supreme Court deeming that a former high school football coach in Washington State had a right to pray on the field following games.

“The decision strikes a serious blow against the Constitution’s Establishment Clause as has been interpreted since World War II,” the American Jewish Committee (AJC) declared in a statement, referring to the clause of the First Amendment that prohibits the government from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion.”

“Worse, the decision subordinates conscience protecting aspects of separation of church and state to individual religious expression,” the AJC continued.

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Monday’s decision — which came four days after the Supreme Court triggered a political earthquake by overturning its 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, enabling individual states to ban abortion outright — found in favor of football coach Joseph Kennedy, who accused the school district in Bremerton, Washington, of violating his religious freedom by telling him he could not pray publicly following his team’s contests.

“Here, a government entity sought to punish an individual for engaging in a brief, quiet, personal religious observance doubly protected by the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment. And the only meaningful justification the government offered for its reprisal rested on a mistaken view that it had a duty to ferret out and suppress,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the Court’s opinion.

In a dissenting opinion joined by the two other serving liberal justices, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that the Supreme Court “consistently has recognized that school officials leading prayer is constitutionally impermissible” and said the ruling did a “disservice” to schools, students and “the nation’s longstanding commitment to the separation of church and state.”

That concern was echoed by the AJC. “The Court’s opinion effectively invites indirect but no less real coercion of students who are attuned to hints from school officials who grade and evaluate them,” the group said. “The Court’s see-no-evil approach to the coach’s prayer will encourage those who seek to proselytize within the public schools to do so with the Court’s blessing. That is no advance for religious liberty.”

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) also condemned the decision, describing it as a “grim day in education.”

The decision would undermine the separation of church and state and pave “a path for school prayer in public schools and impose one set of religious beliefs on all students,” the ADL tweeted.

The Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism (RAC) said that it was “deeply disappointed” by the court’s decision.

“As Reform Jews, we believe no student should feel forced to engage in religious activity at public school or choose between religious freedom and being part of a team,” the RAC stated.

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