A Christian high school in Tampa, Florida, is fighting for its right to say prayers over a loudspeaker before games.
Cambridge Christian School is locked in a legal battle with the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) after reportedly asking if its football team could use a stadium’s loudspeaker to broadcast a pre-game prayer before a state championship against a rival team from University Christian School, another Christian school.
The FHSAA reportedly denied that request, arguing that, since the game was held on public property at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida, making such an allowance would be seen as government endorsement of religion.
Both teams were apparently dismayed by the decision, as they wanted the prayer to be broadcast over the loudspeaker. The teams did reportedly meet mid-field for a prayer before the game, though it was not shared audibly for the audience.
Cambridge Christian School turned to First Liberty, a religious freedom law firm, in Jan. 2016 to send a demand letter to FHSAA. A lawsuit was then filed in September 2016.
By February and June 2017, judges had sided with the FHSAA, leading the school to file an appeal with U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit on Oct. 20, 2017. U.S. District Judge Charlene Edwards Honeywell wrote in June that the issue boiled down, in part, to rules governing the use of the loudspeaker inside of the venue.
“Cambridge Christian argues that it never requested the public address announcer to give the prayer, but that it instead sought access to the loudspeaker so that a representative of either school could pray over the loudspeaker,” she wrote. “This, however, amounts to a request that the FHSAA open its loudspeaker, which otherwise is not accessible to private parties, to allow for prayer to be broadcast during a government controlled and hosted event.:
Honeywell said that this would be seen as “state endorsement of Cambridge Christian’s religious message,” since the venue is owned by the government. But attorneys for the high school disagree with this assessment.
“By banning the pre-game prayer over the loudspeaker, the FHSAA sent a message to these students that prayer is wrong and something you should be ashamed of,” Hiram Sasser, general counsel for First Liberty, said in a statement. “That is dangerous and unconstitutional.”
Jeremy Dys, deputy general counsel for First Liberty, added that he believes the appeals court will see the FHSAA’s prayer refusal as “an assault on the First Amendment.” We’ll have to see what happens as the battle forges on.
Read more about the case here.