Former Washington state football coach Joe Kennedy, who on Monday scored a victory when the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that he had the right to kneel on the football field and lead prayers with his players, told Newsmax on Monday that the ruling has "not settled all the way in, but it's a big sigh of relief knowing the hard part is over, and we can all move forward now."
Further, Kennedy told Newsmax's "John Bachman Now" that he disagrees with Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who argued in her dissent that the case had elevated the interest of one individual over the interests of others.
"My elevation is nothing; this is an elevation for all Americans in their freedom of religion as well as in the freedom of speech," said Kennedy. "Nobody is any more important than anyone else.
"My rights are the same as everybody's and I was just exercising mine, so I'm glad that the rest of the justices took a look at it, looked at the facts of the case, and realize this is not a big deal. This is a guy just being thankful after a football game."
"It was really tough," Kennedy's attorney, Hiram Sasser, who appeared on the program with him, said of the yearslong fight.
Kennedy was a part-time football coach until 2015 in Bremerton, Washington, where the school district fired him and argued that he'd "made a spectacle" out of prayers and speeches, that he'd invited students to join him, and that he courted the media's attention while acting as a government employee. Parents in the district also said their children felt that they were compelled to pray.
"We had to lose, I think five times, before we finally arrived at the Supreme Court," said Sasser. "It's been seven years of a lot of litigation, and ultimately, we ended up with an opinion that that sounds a lot like our initial demand letter from seven years ago."
Sasser said he hopes that he and Kennedy will be able to meet with the school district and get all remaining issues resolved and get the coach back on the field this fall.
The ruling is precedent-setting, noted Sasser, as "every school district lawyer up until today, their default position any time they encountered religious speech in the public schools was to say, Let's censor that."
But those days are over, he added, and "religious freedom belongs not only in the normal public life, but also in our schools, and those lawyers for those school districts are going to have to get with the program and get with the modern times and follow Supreme Court precedent."
Kennedy said he's been hearing from many of his friends in the school district after the ruling, as "there have been so many people that have supported me throughout this fight."
"It's been seven years, so everybody is blowing up my phone saying, 'Hey, we won because that's what it was,' " said Kennedy. "We all want [to say] every single American has won with this. That's why there won't be any riots or anything like that, or a protest because every American has the exact same rights, according to the First Amendment."
But Kennedy said he's missed being part of the high school team members' lives while being away.
"These young men just desperately need people that care more about them than anything else, more than winning a football game or learning the Xs and Os, and believing in them and getting the kids to believe in themselves," he said. "It was the greatest honor of my life being able to be with them and being able to just be part of their lives for just a short while and see them become good young men."
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