The court said, “The Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment protect an individual engaging in a personal religious observance from government reprisal; the Constitution neither mandates nor permits the government to suppress such religious expression.”
The case deals with First Amendment protections of personal religious expression and the school system’s fears of being seen as endorsing a religion, which deals with the Constitution’s “Establishment Clause.” There are also questions about the rights of school employees vs. the duty of that employee not to coerce students, particularly on religious matters.
The majority said he was offering a “quiet prayer of thanks,” while the school system expressed concern about the visibility of the prayer at mid-field.
In the majority opinion, Gorsuch wrote, “He offered his prayers quietly while his students were otherwise occupied. Still, the Bremerton school district disciplined him anyway. It did so because it thought anything less could lead a reasonable observer to conclude (mistakenly) that it endorsed Mr. Kennedy’s religious beliefs. That reasoning was misguided. Both the free exercise and free speech clauses of the first amendment protect expressions like Mr. Kennedy’s. Nor does a proper understanding of the Amendment’s Establishment Clause require the government to single out private religious speech for special disfavor. The Constitution and the best of our traditions counsel mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and suppression, for religious and nonreligious views alike.”
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