October 2018 Church & State - October 2018

Coerced School Religion: Kavanaugh And The Issue Of Compelled Piety

  Coerced School Religion: Kavanaugh And The Issue Of Compelled Piety

The Supreme Court in 2000 reaffirmed the importance of the school prayer decisions of 1962 and ’63 in a case called Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe.

The lawsuit dealt with a school district in Texas that was allowing students to read prayers over a public address system before high school football games. The prayers were by default Christian, and not everyone cared to participate in this form of religious worship. The high court invalidated the practice.

Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s nominee for the Sup­reme Court, has a problem with that. During his Senate confirmation hearings, Kavanaugh said that a case that he loses, like Santa Fe, “sticks in my craw” and asserted that it has been undermined by more recent rulings.

Kavanaugh is wrong about that. The Supreme Court has in no way undercut the school prayer decisions in question. The court has made it clear that while students have the right to pray on their own, public schools may not sponsor, promote or coerce involvement in prayer or other religious activities.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, whom Kavanaugh hopes to replace on the high court, was a strong defender of students’ rights. Kennedy understood that coercion and force should have no place in the religious lives of young people.

Kavanaugh, who as an attorney in private practice wrote a legal brief on behalf of members of Congress in the Santa Fe case supporting the prayer policy, doesn’t get it. He seems to hold the misguided belief that school-sponsored prayer at official events is somehow an exercise of “religious freedom.” It’s not. It’s coercive, inappropriate and wrong.

There are many reasons to oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, but the fact that he fails to understand something this basic ranks high among them.


Americans United & the National Women’s Law Center file suit to challenge Missouri’s abortion bans.

Abortion bans violate the separation of church and state. Americans United and the National Women’s Law Center—the leading experts in religious freedom and gender justice—have joined forces with thirteen clergy from six faith traditions to challenge Missouri’s abortion bans as unconstitutionally imposing one narrow religious doctrine on everyone.

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