FHSAA Seeks To Sack Lawsuit Over Football Game Prayer

October 21, 2016

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.”

by Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida


3 Responses to “FHSAA Seeks To Sack Lawsuit Over Football Game Prayer”

  1. Dan on October 22nd, 2016 1:52 pm

    DOER: That’s a false equivalency… Trying to make a comparison of broadcasting a Christian prayer over a loudspeaker to the Corporate sponsor is not comparable in the least. I’m not even sure how they can attempt to draw some imaginary line connecting the two… Trying to compare religion(which different cultures and people have literally destroyed one another over for millennia including to this day) and advertising which car to buy or who serves a better hamburger is ridiculous to try and make a direct correlation to. No one is chopping peoples heads off because they drive a Chevy vs a Ford. It’s deeply personal and influences everyday lives for many. The US Constitution guarantees Freedom of religion but the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment has very specific rules regarding the promotion and expression of religion at institutions of higher learning for very good reason. It’s a slippery slope. I would be willing to bet most of the local residents would be in a near riot if a Muslim prayer were to be broadcast over a loudspeaker at any school here. I understand that these two schools are religiously affiliated and therefore were allowed to have school officials lead the prayers, just not over speaker. Does anyone believe their Diety could not hear the prayer bc it wasn’t amplified?
    The FHSAA is bound by certain rules regarding prayer bc of the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment… The article even correctly points out that both schools have plenty of other options regarding prayer. Being that they are both religiously affiliated they have more latitude than secular public schools regarding prayer, however FHSAA ruled it cannot be over a loudspeaker.

  2. KMA on October 21st, 2016 3:10 pm

    So, it’s considered state-sponsored prayer only if it’s amplified in some manner? How about if somebody just prays really loud?

    I don’t have a dog in this fight, but it seems a really peculiar argument.

    I could see the extension of this thinking into any prayer at state-sponsored events. Like those prayer-at-the-flagpole events…nobody’s stopping people from praying, but it is on school property, using public resources, etc.

  3. The DOER on October 21st, 2016 6:15 am

    This is such an important case. If secular advertising, corporate sponsorship is allowed to be broadcast over the load speaker, then religious speech can be too. Religious speech is definitely being singled out and discriminated against here. This is indeed content-based selective discrimination.

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