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Citing Secular Protocol, Florida Athletic Association Rejects Schools’ Claim That Prayer Was Muzzled

| October 22, 2016

Team Jesus v. Florida High School Athletic Association. (© FlaglerLive)

Team Jesus v. Florida High School Athletic Association. (© FlaglerLive)

The Florida High School Athletic Association is asking a federal judge to toss out a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a decision that prevented two Christian schools from using a loudspeaker for a prayer before a football championship game.

The association said it did not violate the rights of Tampa’s Cambridge Christian School, which filed the lawsuit last month. In a motion to dismiss the case, the association argued that Cambridge Christian and University Christian School of Jacksonville were free to pray before a December 2015 championship game — just not over the public-address system.

“Indeed, as the amended complaint (the Cambridge Christian lawsuit) makes clear, FHSAA has not denied the school’s athletic program the ability to express itself through prayer among themselves prior, during, or following the game, either in the locker room or outside on the athletic field,” said the motion, filed Tuesday in federal court in Tampa. “FHSAA also has not banned the school’s athletes and supporters from saying anything they wish to anyone they speak with, or from displaying any signage they wish to bring with them. But the law does not require — and for good and valid reason does not permit — the FHSAA to promote sectarian prayer through state-run public address systems.”

Cambridge Christian alleges that the association, the longtime governing body for high-school sports in Florida, violated the U.S. Constitution and the state Constitution in denying a request to use the public-address system at Orlando’s Camping World Stadium for a pre-game prayer. The lawsuit also seeks a preliminary injunction against the association continuing the policy for upcoming athletic events.

“By rejecting Cambridge Christian’s request for pre-game prayer over the loudspeaker on the basis of its religious character and viewpoint, the FHSAA unlawfully prohibited Cambridge Christian’s private religious speech and unreasonably burdened its right to freedom of speech and free exercise of religion,” the lawsuit said.

The case stems from the Division 2A football championship game on Dec. 4 between Cambridge Christian and University Christian. Three days before the game, the schools asked the association to be allowed to use the loudspeaker to lead a prayer, but the request was denied.

The teams prayed together at mid-field before the game, according to court documents filed by Cambridge Christian and the association.

In the motion to dismiss filed this week, the association said it uses a public-address “protocol” that includes policies about what announcers can say during games. As examples, that includes announcements about lineups, substitutions and timeouts and includes a script for promotional announcements, the motion said. The association said it does not allow “open access” to the public-address system.

The association’s legal arguments are based, at least in part, on what is known as the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.

“FHSAA was also upholding its obligations under the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause in not allowing what would amount to a state-sponsored prayer at a state-sponsored championship football game,” the motion said. “Cambridge Christian was not denied the opportunity for prayer — in fact, Cambridge Christian acknowledges that it was allowed to offer a pre-game prayer, which it did so, publicly, from mid-field. FHSAA did not infringe on Cambridge Christian’s right to exercise its religious freedom and free speech rights.”

But the school’s lawsuit pointed to other forms of speech allowed at the game, including messages from corporate sponsors on the stadium’s video screen and advertisements delivered by the public-address announcer. It also said Cambridge Christian’s cheerleading coach was allowed to play music over the loudspeaker while the school’s cheerleaders performed at halftime.

“The policy is not neutral; and, the policy is not generally applicable because it prohibits religious speech, and only religious speech, from being broadcast over the loudspeaker,” the lawsuit said. “The FHSAA’s denial of Cambridge Christian’s request for prayer over the loudspeaker, while allowing for secular messages to be delivered over the loudspeaker and other stadium communications media, constitutes content-based and viewpoint-based discrimination in contravention of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

–Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida

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4 Responses for “Citing Secular Protocol, Florida Athletic Association Rejects Schools’ Claim That Prayer Was Muzzled”

  1. Knightwatch says:

    This is a case in which a Christian school wants to proselytize, to preach, to an unwitting audience. This is in clear violation of our constitutional right to separation of church and state. Not to mention that several legal interpretations also grant us freedom from religion, if we so choose.

    Christians, as do members of all other religions, need to keep their religion inside their chosen churches.

  2. Mondexian Mama says:

    The xians in this country enjoy more freedom than almost anywhere else in the world. The arrogance they show ,whether it be to deny atheists to be married or to claim we are an xian country is appalling. I use an x because I have yet to meet a person who is truly Christlike. Praying in public is actually discouraged in the bible: When you pray do not be like the hypocrites!They love to stand up and pray in the houses of worship and on the street corners, so that everyone will see them. When you pray, go to your room.[I edited out a few sentences,but the context remains.]

  3. Anonymous says:

    Amazing how the left reads what is NOT within the Constitution. The so called separation of Church and State does not exist as they see it. The first is NOT meant to keep religious speech and participation out of government doings it IS meant to keep Government out of religion. CONGRESS SHALL MAKE NO LAW RESPECTING AN ESTABLISHMENT OF RELIGION, OR PROHIBITING THE FREE EXERCISE THEREOF; OR ABRIDGING THE FREEDOM OF SPEECH, IMO sounds like the government is doing to theses religiously based schools.

  4. Ibanezer Scrooge says:

    I’m an atheist, but I think… *think*… I side with the schools on this one. If the two schools were using the whole facility for their game, assuming they rented it or were given consent of use for the facility by the owners I would think that would include the public address system. Describing the audience as “unwitting” I think is a stretch. Obviously, if the audience were parents of students and fans of the two schools athletic programs I don’t think a prayer before the game would be a shocking thing for them.

    I really don’t think that prayer over the PA in this case in any way violates the separation of church and state principle of the Constitution.

    Maybe there’s some detail I’m not aware of that would change that, but that’s the way I see it based on what I know.

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