HASTINGS, Mich. (WOOD) — A ruling issued Monday by the U.S. Supreme Court established that school districts may not limit their employees from praying, a practice that one West Michigan school administrator was already common, “especially in smaller communities.”
The court ruled 6-3 in favor of Joseph Kennedy, who lost his job as a coach with a public school district in Washington state after praying following football games. Kennedy said the district violated his right to practice his religion.
Brendan Beery, a professor at Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School, said the court taking the case was a signal that it would likely overturn existing rulings regarding the separation of church and state.
“If somebody wants to, even if it’s a faculty member or coach or somebody who works for a public school, if they want to engage in prayer, it’s very likely that the federal courts would say they can, they can do that, otherwise stopping them would violate their rights to free exercise and free speech,” Beery said.
Mike Goggins, an assistant principal and athletic director with Hastings Area Schools, said the ruling further supports the district’s existing policies allowing prayer.
“We’ve had coaches that have done it. Our football team does it. Usually has a small moment of reflection or a prayer after each game the last few years, that’s been fairly common,” Goggins said.
Goggins said prayer is voluntary and to his knowledge the district has not received a complaint.
“Certainly not mandatory but most kids participate. Some don’t, kind of stand off to the side, maybe,” Goggins said.
Beery said the ruling will provide legal precedent to other school officials praying in a similar way.
“The way this coach characterized this was, ‘I don’t make students pray with me. I just say a prayer at the 50-yard line after a game and if students want to join me, that’s fine,’” Beery said.