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Ex-coach is 'ecstatic' about Supreme Court’s prayer ruling; ACLU fears coercion

Joe Kennedy
Ted S. Warren
/
AP
Joe Kennedy, a former assistant football coach at Bremerton High School in Bremerton, Wash. The Supreme Court has sided with Kennedy, who sought to kneel and pray on the field after games. The court, ruling 6-3 along ideological lines, said Monday the coach's prayer was protected by the First Amendment.

Religious rights advocates are celebrating Monday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upholds a public school coach’s right to pray with their team.

Jim Collins
Fellowship of Christian Athletes
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Jim Collins

Jim Collins is an area director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in McLean, DeWitt and Livingston counties. Collins said he was “ecstatic” about the ruling.

“I think one of the big problems we have in the world today is that we have done everything we can to push God out of our schools, and I think the world would be a lot better off if we figured out a way to let God back in,” Collins said.

Collins coached baseball at several public schools, including University High in Normal and Normal West. Collins said he would pray on the field, but said he did it quietly and never asked his players to participate.

“I’m not even sure the players knew what I was doing,” Collins said. “But if there was a player that said, ‘I’d like to have a team prayer, I certainly made it clear to the rest of the team that they didn’t have to participate.”

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a brief in the case in support of the school in Washington State that fired a football coach who prayed with his team at the 50-yard line.

Rebecca Glenberg
courtesy
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Rebecca Glenberg with the ACLU of Illinois.

Rebecca Glenberg is the senior supervising attorney with ACLU Illinois. Glenberg said student-athletes may still feel a “subtle coercion” to participate in a team prayer. She said the court's ruling disregards their religious liberties.

“Even when students are not required or expected to participate in a religious exercise, they may for good reason feel that it would be to their advantage to do so,” Glenberg said.

She is concerned the court ruling could lead to more efforts to inject religion into public schools. “This is potentially a really damaging opinion,” Glenberg said.

Collins said he hopes the ruling will encourage coaches to publicly express their faith without fear.

The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) said the court ruling will not impact its bylaws or policies.

"Prayer by coaches has and continues to be a local decision by each independent high school and district," IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said in a statement.

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
Alex Degman is a Statehouse reporter with WBEZ.
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