Opinion | In the Face of Fact, the Supreme Court Chose Faith

This trend is surely part of what drives the resurgent Christian right, and it may well even be on the minds of the current conservative majority on the Supreme Court, five of whom are Catholics and one of whom was raised Catholic but attends an Episcopal church. With their brand of religious dogma losing its purchase, they’re imposing it on the country themselves.

They target a vulnerable population. One atheist student on Kennedy’s team reported feeling coerced to participate. He described feeling “uncomfortable and unsafe” during a chaotic scene in which over 500 people stormed the field to join in Kennedy’s prayers. This deprived the player not only of his free-exercise rights, but also, according to the brief, of “his love for football, lasting friendships with his teammates and the respect he otherwise earned from his coaches.” Years later, the brief reports, he feels traumatized.

It’s also a largely powerless population. While the percentage of nonbelievers in America is increasing, secular humanists and atheists are among the least represented groups in American politics. And while 60 percent of Americans say they would vote for an atheist for president (up from 18 percent in 1958), only one member of the 117th Congress identified as unaffiliated with any religion in a 2021 Pew poll. None identified as atheist or agnostic.

It’s still dangerous to come out as an atheist in many parts of America, according to Rachel Laser, president and chief executive of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “We have religious-minority and atheist plaintiffs and clients who have received death threats and have had their kids physically attacked, their pets killed, their home windows shot out and their businesses boycotted,” Laser told me. “Many are too afraid to be named as plaintiffs and insist on being anonymous because they fear for their own and their families’ health and safety.”

Those who objected to Kennedy’s behavior similarly faced harassment in their communities and on social media. When Jennifer Chamberlin, a teacher in the school district, came out publicly in favor of her employer, she became, in her words, “a social pariah.” According to the amicus brief filed by community members on behalf of the school district, the situation forced her to “come out as atheist,” something she hadn’t previously done because “she was afraid of being ostracized.” The brief explained that being outed as a nonbeliever “resulted in ‘one of the most difficult times in her life’” and that her son “also suffered and was ‘constantly having to defend’ his mother from classmates and community members.”

Such intolerance mirrors the strong-arming intentions of the Supreme Court’s conservative majority. Unhappy with what much of the country believes, the court’s right wing chooses to believe what it would like and foists the results on the rest of us. Just like Coach Kennedy, they’re out to proselytize.

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