FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 3, 2022
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Tracey Miller, 202-660-1628, Tracey.Miller@theacru.org
American Constitutional Rights Union Fights Relentless Attack on Personal Freedom of Religious Expression
ACRU Files Amicus Brief for Coach Joe Kennedy Supreme Court Case
Naples, FL—At what point are Americans prohibited from having faith? The Ninth Circuit court’s reasoning and ruling seem to imply that public employees lose their right to private and personal prayer and other forms of religious expression when on the clock.
The American Constitutional Rights Union filed an amicus brief in support of Coach Joe Kennedy, who lost his teaching job because he knelt and said a quiet prayer by himself after a football game ended. The Ninth Circuit noted that, because Coach Kennedy taught and coached football at a public high school, his prayer was government speech that has no First Amendment protection and that, even if his prayer was private, the City would violate the Establishment Clause if it allowed the prayer to continue.
“It is truly appalling that government expects an individual to turn off their deeply-held spiritual beliefs when they report for work at a public establishment,” says ACRU President Lori Roman. “It is beyond shocking that our courts are upholding this attack on one of our most fundamental natural rights, the freedom to practice religion. Should public employees have to choose between their faith and a job?”
Consider how scenarios commonly understood as protected by the First Amendment would be prohibited under the Ninth Circuit’s reasoning. Perhaps a teacher bowing her head in silent prayer of thanks while students are nearby before lunch in the school cafeteria, a civilian employee at the Pentagon keeping the Qur’an visibly on her desk so that she can read it during her personal time, and a teacher of Jewish faith wearing a yarmulke through the duration of each workday.
In its brief, the ACRU addressed the Establishment Clause argument; It noted that the Supreme Court has repeatedly held that governmental bodies must act neutrally when confronted with a conflict between the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and the Establishment Clause. In addition, the Court’s analysis has considered “the critical distinction between government speech endorsing religion, which the Establishment Clause forbids, private speech endorsing religion, which the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses protect.”
The ACRU also pointed out that in cases involving race-based relief and competing statutory or constitutional claims, the Court had required the proponent of the action to show a “strong basis in evidence” to support its view. The City could not do this.
“For decades, activists on the left used lawsuits and cultural changes to distort America’s basic religious freedom and its history, twisting the Constitution into an enemy of the individual right to worship rather than protecting religious expression for people of all faiths,” stated Roman. “Correcting this distortion and fighting anti-religious liberty government actions has been a primary goal of the American Constitutional Rights Union. We’re anxious to present our views in this case in defense of Mr. Kennedy’s constitutional rights.”
American Constitutional Rights Union, a non-partisan, non-profit public policy organization dedicated to defending the constitutionally protected civil rights of all Americans.