Central Conference of American Rabbis Statement on Public Prayer by Public School Officials

June 29, 2022

The Central Conference of American Rabbis is deeply concerned by this week’s Supreme Court ruling in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District. The Court ruled in favor of public high school football coach, Joseph Kennedy, who engaged in public prayer while on duty and “invited” students to join him.

Reform rabbis are long on record in support of the free exercise of religion, a First Amendment right which has enabled Judaism and a host of religions to thrive on American soil. At the same time, we have consistently opposed the establishment of religion by the state, equally guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Members of the CCAR have often counseled young people in the communities we serve who have been “invited” to participate in Christian prayer at public schools, often in connection with athletics. For decades, young people in our communities have told us that “invitations” like Coach Kennedy’s are coercive, and that when they decline to participate, student athletes face consequences—from their coaches, from their peers, or both. Those consequences have ranged from reduction in playing time, to social isolation, to anger, and even to violence. CCAR rabbis have frequently and successfully intervened with public school officials to end these coercive practices, which were prohibited until this week’s ruling. Whenever a state employee leads a public prayer, inviting students to participate, they are establishing a state religion, contrary to our Constitution’s First Amendment.

Public schools should be free of an established state religion. With the recent Supreme Court decision, representatives of minority religions, including CCAR rabbis, have lost a tool that our Constitution had provided to keep our students safe in public schools. Reform rabbis will not rest in our advocacy for our young people and will continue to support them when they bravely stand up to religious coercion in their public schools.

Rabbi Lewis Kamrass, President
Rabbi Hara E. Person, Chief Executive
Central Conference of American Rabbis