Former Bremerton High School football coach Joe Kennedy said his heart was pounding and his hands were sweating when the Supreme Court issued their ruling in his case against the school district that fired him over postgame prayers.
Kennedy had lost his lower court decisions against the Washington school district, which believed that as a public school employee he could not pray on the field, even by himself after games. On Monday, the Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s decision, holding that the school violated Kennedy’s First Amendment rights.
“It’s like you just won a football game,” Kennedy told Fox News in an interview after the ruling.
The former coach looked back at his years-long fight, saying it was worth it. He recalled telling his players never to give up fighting for what is right.
HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL COACH SCORES BIG WIN AT SUPREME COURT OVER POST-GAME PRAYER
“I would be the world’s biggest hypocrite if I didn’t continue to fight with this,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy also said that as a Marine veteran he was trained to defend the Constitution.
“The First Amendment applies to all Americans equally,” he said. “It applies to everyone.”
On the other side of that argument, the dissenting opinion from Justice Sonia Sotomayor said Kennedy’s prayers may have led players into feeling coerced into joining because they wanted him to give them playing time. This came up during oral arguments as well.
“They brought that up out of the blue, out of who knows where,” Kennedy said. “If anybody had a problem with anything, we are so close that’s all we did was talk about things. And we respect each other. Bremerton is the most diverse school. You know that whole stuff about diversity and being inclusive? Well that applies to everybody. People of faith, people of no faith, different faiths, it doesn’t matter.”
Kennedy insisted that if the players did not want to do it, they did not have to.
“That was never a big deal,” he said.
SUPREME COURT DISREGARDS ‘SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE’ IN FOOTBALL COACH PRAYER CASE: JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR
It did come up over the course of the case, however, that there had been a complaint from the parent of an atheist student who said he felt compelled to join.
During the interview, Kelley Shackelford, president of the First Liberty Institute that represented Kennedy, acknowledged that over the course of eight years of praying on the field, two students came forward and said they were uncomfortable.
“He ended up making them captains,” Shackelford said.
Kennedy emphasized that players’ discomfort “was never an issue,” and indeed it was not the issue in the Supreme Court’s decision. After the school district told Kennedy to stop praying with students he did so. Instead, he prayed by himself on the field while students sang the school fight song.
The school district still had a problem with this, and fired him after he continued to do so.
“They kept moving the goal posts on him,” Shackelford said.
The court’s opinion made clear that its decision was based solely on Kennedy’s actions in those final games, where he prayed on his own without the students.
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Now that the case is over, Kennedy is thankful for the support he has received from others.
“This is a victory for everybody in America,” he said.