Well, this was definitely a good week for Christians.
First, the Supreme Court told officials in Maine that if you plan to have a school voucher program, religious schools cannot be excluded. Then Roe v. Wade, which was followed by the Coach Kennedy case and allowed a teacher to hold a brief silent prayer after a football game.
Let me start by telling you that as much as I have devoted my life to working in the media, for the most part you cannot trust the press to fairly and accurately report exactly what the Supreme Court did in these cases . The sharpest thing you can do is go to a website called www.scotusblog.com and read the cases and decisions verbatim. This site gives you direct links to the decisions and the dissent.
You might think that if you don’t have a law degree, following a Supreme Court decision is difficult, but it’s not. It’s actually surprisingly easy. By reading the decisions on both sides of the argument, only then can you truly understand why the judges ruled the way they did and form your own opinion. If you rely on a tweet from USA Today to inform you correctly, you will be hopelessly lost or badly misled.
Let me give you an example.
I thought, based on media reports, that the Kennedy case was about the public school coach who prayed on a public field and encouraged other students to join him. It was strongly argued that even if he didn’t say a word to other kids on the team, there was an implied pressure to join. Some players were actually worried if they didn’t pray, they would be treated differently and maybe get less game time. The opposite was true.
In reading the actual decisions, I learned that there is no evidence that he punishes or praises students if they join him or not. The truth is that the school district fired the coach because they felt that if he was praying after the game, he wasn’t fulfilling his duties as a coach and not keeping an eye on the kids. However, the court found that no other coaches were disciplined if they went to get hot dogs or went to the stands to meet their families after the game.
The kids on the team scattered to find their loved ones after the game. The only person the school district cared about was the coach, who took a moment to say a silent prayer.
If you read the decision, you also see that the judges were concerned that cracking down on this coach and his right to free speech could open the door to another free speech discipline. If a teacher bows his head at lunch to “say grace” to others, would that not be the same offense? If two professors in the faculty lounge want to have a conversation about some topic, can’t that also be a violation because they are “public servants” on a public basis?
Those were the issues at stake in this case, but I’m guessing none of the articles you’ve read talk about that. It’s easier to say it’s just about separation of church and state and he shouldn’t be allowed to pray on a football field. There seems to be this pressure to tell “religious types” that they have a right to talk to their invisible friend in heaven as long as they do it in their church on Sunday; just don’t do it where people can see you, especially if you’re a government official. Yet that is not what the First Amendment says.
What’s interesting about all three cases that seem to be going the religious right’s way is how they could all be avoided if there was a little common sense and tolerance on the other side.
In Maine, they had a program providing parent training assistance that could be used in private schools as long as they were not religious. Why? Who was he hurting? If such a program existed here, some might use it to send a child to Albany Academy and another to Catholic Headquarters. What would be wrong with that? Better to end the program entirely than ban only certain schools.
Now look at Roe v. Wade.
The majority of this country supports first-trimester abortion. In France the limit is 84 days, Italy is 90. My opinion is that much of Europe agrees with most Americans. Does Congress pass a law codifying abortion rights? No. Once again, they abdicate their responsibility, throwing it in court. We will now have states where it is impossible to have an abortion and some with almost no restrictions until birth.
Again, Congress can fix this today.
Then there’s the coach who prayed. He did not lead anyone in prayer. He did not gather the children to pray. He just wanted to kneel down and thank his God. With all the problems in the world, couldn’t we just leave him alone? no Let’s fire him instead.
They say that success has many fathers, while failure is an orphan. To be fair, the people most upset by these recent Supreme Court decisions need to take a long hard look in the mirror.
John Gray is a news anchor on WXXA-Fox TV 23 and ABC’s WTEN News Channel 10. His column is published every Sunday. Email him at [email protected]