Bobby Bowden criticizes removal of prayer from public schools, supports high school coach

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Former Florida State Hall of Fame football coach Bobby Bowden reaffirmed his belief that the courts have gone too far in pushing prayer out of public schools and stands solidly behind former high school coach Joe Kennedy, who didn't have his contract renewed after kneeling in prayer on the field following football games.

"People say, 'It's not politically correct.' Well, the heck with political correctness. I've never believed in it," Bowden told ESPN. "I did what [Kennedy] did. I prayed after the game. I prayed before the game. I prayed during the game. I prayed all day, and we did pretty good. Now, do I think God is going to win football games? Oh no. I never prayed to God to help us win a game. I would pray for the safety of the players. I would pray that they would do their best. I think God will answer that."

Kennedy, who coached in Bremerton, Washington, was placed on administrative leave in 2015 before his contract was allowed to expire. He is seeking through his attorneys at First Liberty Institute to have his case reheard by the U.S. Supreme Court, and Bowden has agreed to join several groups, including members of Congress, attempting to help Kennedy.

"I bet those boys who play for [Kennedy] all think he's correct," said Bowden, a devout Christian who has long shared his beliefs. "It gets down to the question: What kind of coach do you want coaching your son? You want one that swears and beats them down and abuses them, which most of them don't do, or do you want somebody that prays for them and prays with them and tries to teach them Godly messages?

"Why can't they put on the wall of the schools, 'Thou shall not kill?' We've got people coming off the streets shooting kids in schools, and we're all wondering what we are going to do. Well, they've got to get the message, 'Thou shall not kill. Thou shall not steal.' Some people are afraid of that. I'm not."

In 1962, the Supreme Court ruled that school-sponsored prayer in public schools violated the First Amendment. Misunderstanding of this decision even years later led then-President Bill Clinton to issue a memo in 1995 titled "Religious Expression in Public Schools" that clarified that students can pray whenever they wish as long as they do it privately, and that religious groups are permitted to meet on school grounds after school.

Bowden, 88, coached for 34 seasons at FSU, winning 377 games and two national championships. He said he never forced his Christian beliefs on his players but wanted them to at least be exposed to them and then "make their own choices."