Coach Joe Kennedy’s former player calls SCOTUS ruling a relief

Morning In America

(NewsNation) — Although not religious himself, a former football player of Joe Kennedy, a high school coach who knelt and prayed on the field after games, says Kennedy changed his life for the better.

Kennedy’s prayers were at the center of a recent Supreme Court case. Bremerton High School, where he worked, asked Kennedy to stop out of fear of being sued. When Kennedy continued praying, they put him on paid lead. Kennedy sued. In a 6-3 decision Monday, the Supreme Court sided with the football coach.

Taylor Saylor, who played football at Bremerton High School from 2011 to 2015, said the Supreme Court’s ruling “was a relief.”

“I played four years for Coach Kennedy, and he’s always been a very important person in my life,” Saylor said. He credits Kennedy for teaching him good sportsmanship and even named his daughter after the coach.

Saylor isn’t a person of faith. He doesn’t pray. But Kennedy’s religion was not controversial to him, Saylor said on NewsNation’s “Morning in America.”

“I saw it as a gathering of me and my teammates, us and our opponents after a hard-fought game,” Saylor said. “There were lots of injuries and different things that could go on during the game. And after the game, it was just a way for us to say thank you for allowing us to play the game we love and walk off that field to our families.”

After games, Kennedy would head to the center of the field, Saylor said. As a young player, Kennedy would see older players follow their coach.

“If a player didn’t one want to head to the center of the field with us, they were more than welcome to go see their families on the stand…to the locker room,” Saylor said. “It was always a choice.”

Instead of telling Kennedy he wasn’t allowed to pray, Saylor said the school district should have talked directly with the team.

Kennedy said on NewsNation’s Rush Hour Monday that he feels “vindicated” by the Supreme Court ruling in his favor.

“I can’t stop smiling and thinking that seven years of all this work in a long, drawn-out fight has been absolutely worth it in the end,” Kennedy said, adding he hopes to return to the school and continue coaching.

Bremerton School District said in a statement that the Supreme Court’s ruling was an assault on the separation of church and state, but that they will continue to provide a welcoming and inclusive environment for students and staff.

The school district said it had “followed the law and acted to protect the religious freedom of all students and their families.”

On Monday, some lauded Supreme Court’s decision as a victory for religious freedom, while others said it undermined the separation of church and state.

Paul Clement, the attorney who argued the case on behalf of Kennedy, said in a statement that the decision would allow the coach “to finally return to the place he belongs – coaching football and quietly praying by himself after the game.” But Rachel Laser, the head of Americans United, said the decision “opens the door to much more coercive prayer in our public schools.”

The Associated Press contributed.

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