Factbox-U.S. Supreme Court takes broad view of religious rights in key cases

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FILE PHOTO: Anti-abortion activists attend the annual "March for Life", in Washington

(Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday issued another significant ruling broadening religious rights, siding with a Christian former public high school football coach in Washington state who sued after being suspended from his job for refusing to stop leading prayers with players on the field after games.

The court, especially its conservative bloc, has taken a wide view of religious liberty in numerous cases in recent years. Here is a look at some of the cases involving religious rights decided during its current term, which began in October.

KENNEDY V. BREMERTON SCHOOL DISTRICT

In the case decided on Monday, the court ruled 6-3 in favor of Joseph Kennedy, who until 2015 served as a part-time assistant football coach in the city of Bremerton. The justices rejected the local school district’s concerns that in a public school setting Kennedy’s prayers and Christian-infused speeches could be seen as coercive to students or a governmental endorsement of a particular religion in violation of the First Amendment’s so-called establishment clause. The justices overturned a lower court’s ruling siding with the school district.

CARSON V. MAKIN

In a 6-3 decision on June 21, the court endorsed more public funding of religious entities as it sided with two Christian families who challenged a Maine tuition assistance program that excluded private religious schools. The justices overturned a lower court ruling that had rejected the families’ claims of religious discrimination in violation of the U.S. Constitution, including the First Amendment protection of the free exercise of religion. Maine’s program provides public funds for tuition at private high schools of a family’s choice in sparsely populated areas lacking public secondary schools. Maine required eligible schools to be “nonsectarian,” excluding those promoting a particular religion and presenting material “through the lens of that faith.”

SHURTLEFF V. BOSTON

The court ruled 9-0 on May 2 that Boston violated the free speech rights of a Christian group by refusing to fly a flag bearing the image of a cross at City Hall as part of a program that let private groups use the flagpole while holding events in the plaza below. The justices decided that the city violated free speech rights protected under the First Amendment of the Christian group Camp Constitution and its director Harold Shurtleff. Boston had argued that raising the cross flag as Camp Constitution requested under a flag-raising program aimed at promoting diversity and tolerance in the city could appear to violate another part of the First Amendment that bars governmental endorsement of a particular religion. The justices overturned a lower court ruling in favor of Boston.

RAMIREZ V. COLLIER

The court ruled 8-1 on March 24 that Texas must grant a convicted murderer on death row his request to have his Christian pastor lay hands on him and audibly pray during his execution, bolstering the religious rights of condemned inmates. The justices overturned a lower court’s decision against John Henry Ramirez, who appealed the state’s rejection of his request for pastoral touch and prayer while he dies from lethal injection. Ramirez was sentenced to death for a fatal 2004 stabbing outside a convenience store.

(Compiled by Andrew Chung and Lawrence Hurley in Washington; Editing by Will Dunham)

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