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"A great ruling for America": Football coach who lost job over praying reacts to winning Supreme Court case

Coach in religious freedom case reacts to ruling
Coach at center of religious freedom case reacts to Supreme Court ruling 06:30

Former Bremerton High School assistant football coach Joseph Kennedy says he is excited to get back to work after the Supreme Court ruled Monday that his former employers violated his constitutional rights by reprimanding him for praying on the football field. 

In a 6-3 ruling Monday, the court's majority said that the free exercise and free speech clauses of the First Amendment protected Kennedy's prayer time, as he was an individual engaging in religious expression. 

Kennedy told CBS News Monday that he was thankful for everyone who supported his case and was grateful that it was finally over, calling the court's decision a "great ruling for America."

"People of faith or no faith, everybody has the same rights and that is what the Constitution is all about," Kennedy said. "It's rights for all Americans."

When questioned about students that might have felt pressured to join in the prayers, Kennedy called the intercessions a "15-second thing." Kennedy also said that several students who told him they felt uncomfortable were given full freedom to skip the prayers and no one received special treatment for joining the prayer. 

'That's America. You can join or you can not join, it's totally up to you," Kennedy said. "That's an individual liberty and it's just great that I have my liberty. It's my freedom to be able to just have that moment of prayer by myself."

Supreme Court rules in favor of football coach who prayed at games 14:15

Kennedy's lawyer, First Liberty Institute CEO Kelly J. Shackelford, said that two players who said they would not join in the prayers were made team captains. 

The former Bremerton, Washington assistant coach began praying on the field following football games in 2008 and continued the practice until 2015, when he and the Bremerton School District began a heated debate over whether the practice, which often involved other players and students, was protected religious expression.

After being placed on administrative leave for violating district directives to stop praying with the students, Kennedy chose not to reapply for his coaching position and instead sued the school district in August 2016. Following a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that sided with the school district, Kennedy and his legal team petitioned the Supreme Court. After turning down his case once and another lower court loss for Kennedy, the justices finally agreed to hear the coach's case in February. 

Kennedy told CBS News that he wants his old job back, but he has not heard anything from the school since the ruling was announced. Once a coach again, Kennedy said he plans to continue his prayers but does not know where they will take place. 

The Bremerton School District said it will continue working to ensure it is a "welcoming, inclusive environment for all students, their families and our staff."

"I have no intentions of going back and wanting to pray with kids," Kennedy said. "It's just wanting the ability to thank God after a football game."

Melissa Quinn contributed to reporting

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