The U.S. Supreme Court today gutted decades of established law that protected students’ religious freedom, undermining our country’s foundational principle of church-state separation in the landmark Kennedy v. Bremerton School District case. The court ruled 6-3 against the Bremerton School District, which was trying to protect public high school students from a coach who violated their religious freedom by pressuring them to join his public prayers at the 50-yard line at public high school football games.
Rachel Laser, President and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which represents the school district, issued the following statement:
“Today, the court continued its assault on church-state separation, by falsely describing coercive prayer as ‘personal’ and stopping public schools from protecting their students’ religious freedom. It is no coincidence that the erosion of the line between church and state has come alongside devastating losses on so many of the rights we cherish. As that line has blurred, public education, reproductive rights, civil rights and more have come under attack.
“This decision represents the greatest loss of religious freedom in our country in generations. This court focused only on the demands of far-right Christian extremists, robbing everyone else of their religious freedom. It ignored the religious freedom of students and families.
“As the network of religious extremists and their political allies behind this case celebrate victory, we can expect them to try to expand this dangerous precedent – further undermining everyone’s right to live as ourselves and believe as we choose. Americans who value freedom and equality – especially for public school students – must rededicate themselves to reestablishing the separation of church and state across the United States.”
The Bremerton School District issued the following statement:
“The Bremerton School District’s priorities have always been protecting the rights and safety of students while ensuring that they receive an exemplary education. That’s why, when we learned that a district employee was leading students in prayer, we followed the law and acted to protect the religious freedom of all students and their families. In light of the court’s decision, we will work with our attorneys to make certain that the Bremerton School District remains a welcoming, inclusive environment for all students, their families and our staff. We look forward to moving past the distraction of this 7-year legal battle so that our school community can focus on what matters most: providing our children the best education possible.”
Laser said this devastating decision is only one among a series of recent Supreme Court cases that have resulted in setbacks for individual rights, such as reproductive freedom, LGBTQ equality and voting rights. In Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Supreme Court abolished the constitutional right to abortion. And in Carson v. Makin, the court forced taxpayers to fund religious education.
Laser promised that Americans United will continue to defend and protect religious freedom, which is inextricably tied to our other personal liberties, by fighting in the courts, legislatures and the public square for freedom without favor and equality without exception.
Americans United is a religious freedom advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, AU educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.
Associate Vice President of Communications