As SCOTUS Examines School Prayer, Families Behind a Landmark Ruling Speak Out

Ruling in favor of a high school coach who knelt to pray on the football field, the Supreme Court opened the door to challenges on school prayer, 60 years after a landmark ruling in Engel v. Vitale.

After a football coach at a public high school knelt in prayer on the field after games, school district officials tried to stop him on the grounds that his actions were coercive, making students feel that they were being forced to pray.

The case landed in the Supreme Court, which ruled in 2022, in Kennedy v. Bremerton, that the school district had overstepped, saying it had violated his freedom of religion under the First Amendment. A 6-3 majority ruled that the district was not justified in stopping the coach’s prayers because he was acting as an individual, not as a coach, when he chose to pray publicly after the game.

It wasn’t the first time that a Supreme Court ruling on school prayer made national news. In Engel v. Vitale in 1962, the court ruled that even voluntary state-sponsored school prayer violated the separation of church and state.

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For teachers
  • Senior Producer: Kit R. Roane
  • Producer: Emily Orr
  • Editor: Heru Muharrar
  • Associate Producer / Reporter: Victoria Benefield

For Educators


This ten-minute video examines how in 2022, the Supreme Court ruled in Kennedy v. Bremerton that a public school district had overstepped its authority when it tried to prevent a football coach from praying on the field after games. In a 6-3 decision, the justices ruled that the coach had been acting as an individual, not as a coach, when he knelt in prayer on the field after games. It wasn’t the first time that the Supreme Court addressed school prayer. In Engel v. Vitale, in 1962, the court ruled that state-sponsored school prayer, even if voluntary, was a violation of the First Amendment.

Lesson Plan 1: The Supreme Court and Prayer in School

Student will examine contemporary and historical Supreme Court cases dealing with the religion clauses of the First Amendment.


Students will:

  • Examine contemporary and historical Supreme Court cases dealing with the religion clauses of the First Amendment.
  • Evaluate relevant Supreme Court decisions to determine how the free exercise and establishment clauses apply.
Essential questions
  • What is meant by religious liberty, and how has the Supreme Court dealt with religious expression in schools?
  • What do the establishment clause, free exercise clause and free speech clause of the First Amendment mean with regard to religious expression?

College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies

  • D1.5.9-12. Determine the kinds of sources that will be helpful in answering compelling and supporting questions, taking into consideration multiple points of view represented in the sources, the types of sources available, and the potential uses of the sources.
  • D2.Civ.1.9-12. Distinguish the powers and responsibilities of local, state, tribal, national, and international civic and political institutions.
  • D2.Civ.3.9-12. Analyze the impact of constitutions, laws, treaties, and international agreements on the maintenance of national and international order.
  • D2.Civ.4.9-12. Explain how the U.S. Constitution establishes a system of government that has powers, responsibilities, and limits that have changed over time and that are still contested.
  • D2.Civ.5.9-12. Evaluate citizens’ and institutions’ effectiveness in addressing social and political problems at the local, state, tribal, national, and/or international level.
  • D2.Civ.8.9-12. Evaluate social and political systems in different contexts, times, and places, that promote civic virtues and enact democratic principles. 
  • D2.Civ.10.9-12. Analyze the impact and the appropriate roles of personal interests and perspectives on the application of civic virtues, democratic principles, constitutional rights, and human rights.
  • D2.Civ.12.9-12. Analyze how people use and challenge local, state, national, and international laws to address a variety of public issues. 
  • D2.Civ.13.9-12. Evaluate public policies in terms of intended and unintended outcomes, and related consequences. 

Common Core Literacy Standards

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.1: Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.2: Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.8: Assess the extent to which the reasoning and evidence in a text support the author’s claims.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.1: Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.