On Monday, Americans United Legal Director Richard B. Katskee argued Kennedy v. Bremerton School District before the U.S. Supreme Court. The case concerns Joe Kennedy, a high school football coach in Bremerton, Wash., who insists he has the right to pray with players and students on the 50-yard-line after games. AU is representing the school district, which wants to ensure that no young person is subjected to unwanted forms of religious pressure from a coach, an authority figure who has the power to determine whether players spend the game running on the field or sitting on the bench.
We never expected opponents of public education to agree with us on this case. One of the reasons many of them despise America’s public schools is that our schools are by law secular and welcome children or all faiths as well as those who come from nonreligious families.
But their argument took an even more alarming turn recently on the Fox News Channel, where hosts and guests on the show “Outnumbered” openly called for abolishing public schools in light of the Kennedy case.
Kennedy’s attorneys have constructed a false narrative about the case, insisting that his prayers were solitary and private. Ample evidence shows that this isn’t true, but the Fox News personalities (naturally) swallowed it entirely and spent several minutes regurgitating Kennedy’s lawyers’ spin as facts.
But they didn’t stop there. According to the Fox crew, what happened to Kennedy is another sign that it’s time to ditch public education altogether.
“This will be a very important case for religious liberty, but also may be a great time in our country’s history where we rethink whether or not we have public schools,” remarked panelist Lisa Kennedy Montgomery, an anti-government talking head. “Maybe we should not have the government involved in education at all so parents and teachers and administrators can make those decisions themselves instead of having the government impose it on them because it is the public school aspect of this that is creating the legal challenge.”
Another panelist, Harris Faulkner, noted that not everyone can afford private school and opined, “Each state allots some money so they would get that money, I would assume,” which led panelist Kayleigh McEnany to say, “You could do vouchers. That’s what Florida did.”
Montgomery, who often goes by the name “Kennedy,” later issued a tweet citing the Bremerton case as justification for “getting government out of schools.” She included a link to a Fox News segment during which several panelists promoted that view. Jeff Deist of the libertarian Mises Institute put it bluntly: “It’s too late. Public schools are too far gone. You don’t have time to wait for the Supreme Court. … You don’t have time to wait for vouchers or school choice. Just get your kids out.” (Christopher Hahn, a progressive podcaster and attorney, was repeatedly shouted down when he tried to defend public schools.)
Public schools serve 90% of America’s children. They serve them no matter their race, socio-economic status or religious views. The American people value public schools and know that this system is one of our nation’s greatest accomplishments and vital to our nation’s success. Yet some on the far right would blithely toss it aside in the name of ideology – and they’re not above distorting the Kennedy v. Bremerton case to mislead Americans in pursuit of that extreme goal.