We are Muslims and Jews. We needed the Supreme Court to side with coach's Christian prayer.
Fouad Zaban is the head coach of the Fordson High School football team in Dearborn, Michigan. He is Muslim, like most of his team. If a player offered him a sip of water during Ramadan, the coach would have to decline. If the student asked why, he would explain that he is fasting because of his faith.
Would this innocent interaction violate the Constitution? Maybe if the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit is correct. (The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday upheld the right of religious Americans to participate in public life while maintaining their faith.)
According to the 9th Circuit Court ruling, any public display of religion by a public school employee in plain sight of his students at or near school events is constitutionally suspect. As representatives of Muslim and Jewish organizations, we hope the Supreme Court will reject the restrictive view of the 9th federal court and defend the right of religious Americans to participate in public life while maintaining their faith.
Fouad Zaban, head football coach at Fordson High School in Dearborn, Michigan, and his family were featured in a 2011 episode of TLC's reality TV series All-American Muslim.
Last year, the 9th federal court ruled that the state's ban on founding a religion required a Seattle-area public school to punish its football coach Joseph Kennedy after he knelt on the 50-yard line, bowed his head and closed his eyes. and prayed a short, silent prayer." He resisted the school's longstanding campaign to silence his public statements of faith. The school eventually fired him.
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Kennedy appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that his suspension from the school violated his right to freedom of expression and worship.
The lower court argued that Kennedy's silent prayer could signal that the public school had unconstitutionally supported religion or that a student might feel compelled to join it, even if it would offend the student's conscience. The court's concern that minority religious students may feel offended or compelled to pray, however misguided, is undoubtedly genuine.
But Orthodox members of minorities like Judaism and Islam have more to fear from a government that seeks to drive the faith out of the public eye than from a government that allows its neighbors to profess their faith publicly.
Don't ask educators to compromise their faith
Observant Jews and Muslims engage in public practices that can draw the attention of others. For example, a Jewish coach standing on the sidelines at a soccer game would be required under Jewish law to say a blessing each time he ate or drank. Jews and Muslims wear distinctive clothing that might raise questions from students that a teacher would of course answer. The 9th Circuit Court decision would allow or even require public schools to ban such private religious practices.
Joseph Kennedy, a former assistant football coach at Bremerton High School in Bremerton, Washington March 9, 2022. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on his case in June 2022.
The school offered to give Coach Kennedy his job if he agreed to pray at a later date when no students would see him. Those only familiar with Christianity, as the Court of Appeal appears to have done, may not understand the coach's claim that doing so would force him to violate his religious beliefs.
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But such a "compromise" could leave followers of both Judaism and Islam in Kennedy's dilemma. Both faiths require their followers to pray at certain times of the day. For example, a devout Jewish or Muslim employee may feel religiously obliged to pray on the bus at a game or during a field trip. The 9th Circuit held that reciting such prayers would be unconstitutional. If this rule were to remain, a practicing Jew or Muslim would be pressured into renouncing either his faith or his chosen profession.
Certainly there are instances where a school might violate the First Amendment, such as when a teacher penalizes students for refusing to recite Christian prayers. We agree that government agencies should not compel citizens to practice the government's preferred beliefs. But in this case, the 9th Circuit went further and ruled that the facility clause prohibits some personal religious conduct that is visible to students. The Opinion does not set out a clear limiting principle, and its adoption could prohibit all or almost all personal religious conduct.
Don't let secularism exclude believers from our schools
If Kennedy's prayer can be considered impermissible, then so can a teacher wearing religious clothing such as a crucifix, yarmulke, or hijab, or some other expression of faith, such as marking the forehead with a cross of ashes on Ash Wednesday.
This is the kind of hostility toward religion that believers, especially those belonging to minorities, experience in countries like France and Belgium that limit the presence of religion in public places. That can't be our law. Our Founding Fathers wrote the First Amendment to accommodate America's diversity of religious practices and attitudes, not to eliminate religious practices.
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In 1894, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, noting that Catholic nuns could not be barred from teaching in public schools even if they taught in religious dress, wrote:
"Shall the courts rule that the cut of a man's coat or the color of a woman's dress is sectarian teaching because it indicates sectarian religious belief? If so, then they may be asked to go further. The Religion of the Teacher It is well known that a pure, unselfish life, expressed in tenderness towards the young and helpfulness to those who are suffering, tends inevitably to further the religion of the man or woman who lives it a tendency to worship one and to see life, at least to some degree, as the fruit of the religion. Therefore, blameless conduct to this degree is sectarian doctrine. But should the education of the children of the community be entrusted only to those men and women who are without any religious belief?"
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has struck the right balance between the free exercise rights of public school teachers and prohibiting the state establishment of religions. The 9th Circle should have followed suit. Since this was not the case, the Supreme Court should reverse.
Howard Slugh is General Coalition of the Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty. Gregory Dolin is Associate Professor of Law at the University of Baltimore School of Law. Ismail Royer is the leader of the Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team at the Institute for Religious Freedom.
Howard Slugh is General Coalition of the Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty. Gregory Dolin is Associate Professor of Law at the University of Baltimore School of Law. Ismail Royer is the leader of the Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team at the Institute for Religious Freedom. They filed an amicus letter asking the Supreme Court to side with coach Joseph Kennedy.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Supreme Court Allowed Soccer Coach Joe Kennedy's Christian Prayer
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