Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump told a former high school football coach today that his firing was "outrageous."
Trump, speaking at the Retired American Warriors PAC gathering, was discussing religion and mentioned the story of a local high school football coach who was fired in 2015 for praying ahead of his team’s game. The coach, Joe Kennedy, a former Marine Corps gunnery sergeant, recently filed a federal lawsuit against the Bremerton School District in Washington state, claiming he was terminated because of his religious beliefs, according to Fox News.
"The other day, just to add to your list, I was watching one of the news programs and they had a, I think high school football coach, you know, they're going into battle,” said Trump, who was cut off by audience members saying “he’s here,” referring to the coach.
Trump asked the coach to stand, saying he didn’t know the man would be present at today’s gathering.
"So you're not allowed to pray before a football game?" Trump asked, adding, "I thought it was horrible.”
"They put me on suspension and then at the end of the year they gave me an adverse write-up of how well I did my job. I didn’t change anything for eight years,” Kennedy told Trump in front of the other retired service members. "Always prayed after every game. And they just really slapped me on it. Said what a horrible person I was. Ended up just not renewing my contract, so ultimately firing me.”
Trump responded that Kennedy’s termination was "absolutely outrageous. I think it's outrageous. I think it's very, very sad and outrageous.”
When Kennedy sued the school district in August, school officials said in a statement: “We are reviewing the complaint and will be working with District legal counsel to prepare the District’s defense,” according to ABC affiliate KOMO.
"Because this matter is now before the federal court, it is not appropriate to discuss this case in the public. We will rely upon the federal court to resolve this matter, and look forward to presenting the District’s case in that esteemed venue,” the statement added.
Last year, Superintendent Aaron Leavell released a statement arguing that the district was abiding by the law, according to the Seattle Times.
"The District is in no way taking away an athletic coach’s freedom of expression. What we are doing is what every state-funded agency and school district must do: abide by the laws that govern us. Like every public school district in the nation, our teaching and coaching staff is not allowed to include religious expression, including prayer, in talks with students while on duty for the District," Leavell said.