Religion and Politics

As Jews in America, we know intimately that religion-state separation is essential to our ability to live and thrive

Editor’s Note: In a June 27 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court said that a Washington state school district violated the First Amendment rights of a high school football coach when he lost his job for praying at the 50-yard line after games. The opinion was 6-3 along conservative-liberal ideological lines.

The court said coach Joe Kennedy’s prayers amounted to private speech, protected by the First Amendment, and could not be restricted by the school district.

The court clarified that a government entity does not necessarily violate the Establishment Clause by permitting religious expression in public.

National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) believes that public schools should be inclusive and welcoming places for all students, regardless of their religious beliefs. No student should have to choose between their religious freedom and being part of school activities. But today’s ruling in Kennedy v. Bremerton could force children enrolled in public schools to do just that. 

Jody Rabhan
Jody Rabhan

As Jews in America, we know intimately that religion-state separation is essential to our ability to live and thrive. Yet this decision and two others this term — Shurtleff v. City of Boston (in which justices ruled that Boston could not exclude religious flags from its flag raising program) and Carson v. Makin (which for the first time forces states to fund religious education) — have deeply undermined constitutional law regarding church-state separation. 

Justice Sotomayor addresses this in her dissent by stating that with this decision, “the Court sets us further down a perilous path in forcing States to entangle themselves with religion, with all of our rights hanging in the balance.”

The Court is dismantling the wall between religion and state, and the impact on people — especially children who practice a minority religion or no religion — cannot be overstated. 

NCJW vows to continue to work with a coalition of diverse religious and nonreligious advocates to fight on behalf of our democratic principles, upon which this country was founded. 

Jody Rabhan is the National Council of Jewish Women Chief Policy Officer. 

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