The Freedom From Religion Foundation teaches every school district in more than a dozen states not to violate student rights by misinterpreting a troubling Supreme Court decision.
In June, the Supreme Court released its opinion in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District confirming the right of a public school coach to offer private, personal prayer following the conclusion of a school-sponsored athletic event. It’s critical to understand that the scope of this ruling is extremely narrow, says FFRF in a memo it sent to more than 6,100 school districts in 14 states: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois.Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia.
“This decision does not give carte blanche public school employees, including coaches, to engage in religious activities with their players or other subordinates, nor does it authorize school districts to enforce prayer on all students, parents and members members of the community gathered for school-sponsored events,” the memo noted. “Public schools have a constitutional obligation not to compel students to participate in religious rituals such as prayer. The Bremerton The decision simply affirms that school officials can pray privately during times when they are not acting in their official capacity as district representatives.
The court’s decision specifically underscored this important distinction. He also reaffirmed that school-sponsored prayer is constitutionally prohibited, explicitly distinguishing the coach’s private prayers at Bremerton school-sponsored coercive prayer, such as coach-led prayer with student participation and loudspeaker-broadcast prayers before sporting events.
“The Bremerton The decision did not change the law at all regarding what school districts can and cannot do at their sporting events,” the memo reads. “It certainly did not open the door for public school officials to coerce students into participating in religious activities by scheduling prayers at school-sponsored events, leading students in prayer, or inviting students to participate in prayer. Please consider reminding your administrators, athletic directors, coaches, and staff of the important line between permitted private religious expression and coercive religious practices, and monitor school sporting events to ensure that school employees follow the law.
The memo ends by pointing out: “While the Bremerton decision focused entirely on the rights of the coach and ignored the rights of students to be free from religious proselytizing and indoctrination in public schools, you should strive to create an inclusive and welcoming environment for all students, regardless of their religious or non-religious beliefs.” He also points out that demographic trends suggest up to half of secondary school students are non-religious.
Read the full memo here.
The memo to Sunshine State school districts was also signed by the Florida chapter of FFRF, the Central Florida Free Thought Community.
The multi-state memo is part of a nationwide campaign to educate students about their permanent right to be free from religious coercion in public schools that began on the site of the infamous eponymous case in the of Washington State with a signage message: “Wishing Bremerton High School a safe, secular and successful school year.
The campaign includes a “Know Your Rights” webpage and online resource brochure for students. The online resource encourages students to report Establishment Clause violations to the FFRF here. (The FFRF website also has a handy wallet-sized card that students can print out and take with them.) If necessary, the FFRF will contact student-athletes directly to let them know their rights, as it did it with the student-athletes at Swain. High School, North Carolina
“Theocratically-minded groups and individuals are trying to take advantage of the Supreme Court’s blatant judgment,” says FFRF Co-Chair Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We are doing everything we can to ensure that students’ rights are respected.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national non-profit organization with over 38,000 members and several chapters throughout the United States of America. Our goals are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.