For a high school football coach, emotions can run high on the morning of the first game of the season. But this is not just another game under the Friday night lights, and Joseph Kennedy knows it.
"I'm really excited. I'm a little nervous to be honest, but really, really excited," he said.
Kennedy has been in the national spotlight for years, known as the 'praying coach.' He lost his job eight years ago for kneeling in prayer with players on the center field after games.
The prayers drew big crowds and protests, and the Bremerton, Washington, school district placed him on leave and then refused to renew his contract.
He fought that decision all the way to the United States Supreme Court. Despite opposition from the high court's liberal judges, Kennedy's case won in a 6-3 decision led by the court's conservative majority.
Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote: "The best of our traditions counsel mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and suppression, for religious and nonreligious views alike."
"I was in almost disbelief it, an eight-year battle is a long, long time and for something I thought would be over in just a few days or even a week, it was really a bummer that it took that long, but the fight was absolutely well worth it," said Kennedy.
Kennedy currently lives in Florida and is staying with friends in Washington for the football season.
Though he has a book coming out in October, he says he's trying to keep a low profile while in town coaching.
"Just trying to remain faithful, you know, fighting a good fight and remain faithful," he said.
The Bremerton School District also recognizes the high-profile nature of what's happened. Along with an entire page on its website detailing the case and the lawsuit money paid to Kennedy, it released a statement, saying in part: "The District remains steadfast in its commitment to respecting the rights and religious freedom of students, families, and school staff. We look forward to moving past the distraction of this nearly 8-year legal battle."
"If I force somebody to do this, I should be fired. You know, telling somebody they have to do something is just as wrong as telling them that they can't do something. And that's never what it was about," said Kennedy.
For Kennedy, he says this is all about his constitutional rights, and being able to express being thankful in the way he wants. He hopes to be an example to others, to stand up for what they believe is right, no matter how long it takes.
"I want to set the good example and hopefully they'll look at me and say, look, the coach is being thankful and we don't know who he is talking to, but that's all about us," he said.
Trending stories at Scrippsnews.com