Alabama groups, legal experts react to Supreme Court's ruling in favor of high school football coach prayers
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — While some Alabama officials call the Supreme Court’s ruling in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District a victory, others warn of unintended consequences it may have on religious expression in public spaces.

The Court ruled in favor of a high school football coach who prayed on the field after games, saying his expression was protected by the First Amendment.

“I was elated. To me, it’s a return to what the Constitution actually addresses,” past President of the Alabama Citizens Action Program Joe Godfrey said.

Godfrey says he’s happy to see the court stand for religious liberty.

“Hopefully it’ll remove the burden from a lot of people who feel like they’re not able to express their religious views now,” Godfrey said.

In recent years, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has filed complaints against Alabama schools over their praying on the loudspeaker before football games. Those schools, including in Jefferson County, have since stopped the practice.

Jefferson County Superintendent Dr. Walter Gonsoulin said in a statement the school’s legal team is reviewing the ruling to understand its scope.

A lawyer with the Freedom From Religion Foundation says school loudspeaker prayer is still unconstitutional and this ruling doesn’t change that.

“In this case, at least under the court’s opinion, Gorsuch’s opinion, the coach is going off on his own praying privately, so that wasn’t imposing prayer on anyone else,” Freedom From Religion Foundation staff attorney Chris Line said.

Line worries a misinterpretation of the ruling could result in more public officials bringing religion into public spaces.

“Peoples’ gut reaction looking at that is ‘Oh, you can pray in school again?’ Obviously that’s still unconstitutional under the opinion, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t going to see it and start doing it,” Line said.

Southeast Law Institute President Eric Johnston says he doesn’t foresee school officials acting differently because of the ruling but says they might feel more free in expressing their beliefs.

“This case sort of opens the door for school personnel to have a little better freedom of their religion without being punished for exercising it,” Johnston said.

Jefferson County Schools did adopt a resolution in April supporting the football coach in this case and his right to religious expression.

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