The Supreme Court is poised to protect the ability to intermingle church and state.
By Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern
On April 25, the Supreme Court will hear Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, a case that was carefully engineered to return prayer to public schools. Kennedy marks an effort to overturn nearly 60 years of precedent protecting schoolchildren from state-sponsored religion by flipping the First Amendment on its head. The case erases the rights of children who wish to avoid religious coercion at school, fixating instead on the right of school officials to practice their religion during the course of their formal duties. It is the culmination of a decadeslong battle to reframe government neutrality toward religion as unconstitutional discrimination against people of faith. And it is chillingly likely to succeed.
It would be a mistake, however, to view Kennedy as a mere doctrinal shift in constitutional law, as radical as that doctrinal shift would be. This case is also the product of the Republican political campaign aimed at restoring public schools’ authority to indoctrinate students with Christianity. The campaign is on the brink of success in the courts because proponents of school prayer have perfected a tactic that reverses the victim and offender.
Today, school officials who coerce students into prayer go on the offensive, claiming that any attempt to halt their efforts at religious coercion is actually persecution of their religious beliefs. Supervisors, lawmakers, and judges who attempt to shield children from being indoctrinated are recast as anti-Christian bigots.