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Latest SCOTUS ruling could embolden religious expression advocates in Kentucky

Josh James

With the U.S. Supreme Court siding with a Washington high school football coach who lost his job after praying at the 50-yard line after games could open the door to more religious expression in schools. Similar church/state separation questions are nothing new in Kentucky.

With the latest high court decision, advocates for greater religious expression in schools could be empowered to push for further speech protections in Kentucky.

In recent years, a number of controversies have arisen around the issue — from “prayer lockers” at Pike County High School to former Gov. Matt Bevin’s call for students to bring Bibles to school for a day. Starting in 2019, schools were required to display the national motto “In God We Trust” in a prominent location.

A year earlier, the legislature took up a bill sponsoring an annual day of prayer for students. Republican Rep. Regina Huff described that legislation as encouraging students "in accordance with their own faith and conscience to pray, meditate, or otherwise reflect upon the students of this state as well as their teachers, administrators, and schools."

That voluntary observance would have taken place before the school day, but with an official proclamation from the governor.

The episodes are all part of a long-running debate. Back in 2006, a federal judge blocked a southern Kentucky high school from including prayers in its graduation ceremony. The new ruling from the nation’s high court could invite bolder legislative action by sympathetic lawmakers in the state.

Past incidents have earned school districts and lawmakers warnings from groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a nonprofit watchdog that monitors states for violations of church/state separation.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.