A Tampa Christian school, Cambridge Christian, has filed a lawsuit against the Florida High School Athletic Association for denying the school’s request to use loudspeakers to deliver a pregame prayer. The incident occurred last December during a football championship game between Cambridge Christian and University Christian School.
Both schools traditionally offer a pregame prayer before they play, but the FHSAA denied both schools’ requests to broadcast a prayer over the loudspeakers, claiming such an action could cause legal issues for the organization.
Cambridge Christian claims in the lawsuit that 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 arguments made by the plaintiff center around a perceived unlawful government interference in religious expression. While the teams were able to pray together before the game, the lawsuit claims the fans were unable to hear the prayer, and as a result, the two schools’ communities were unable to join the teams in a community sharing of a prayer.
First Liberty Institute, possibly the largest legal organization dedicated to defending Americans’ religious freedoms, will be representing Cambridge Christian in the lawsuit. Due to the nature of the allegations, the suit was filed in a Tampa federal district court.
— Jim Carr (@JimmCarr) September 27, 2016
The FHSAA executive director, Roger Dearing, defended his organization’s decision on the basis of separation of church and state. Additionally, a 2000 Supreme Court case ruled against another school and denied it the use of a public address system to broadcast a prayer.
“‘The issue was never whether prayer could be conducted,” Dearing wrote. “The issue was, and is, that an organization, which is determined to be a ‘state actor,’ cannot endorse nor promote religion. The issue of prayer, in and of itself, was not denied to either team or anyone in the stadium.”
The organization claims to be a state actor, an entity acting on behalf of the state, and so cannot endorse or promote religion. As such, FHSAA states that it could not legally permit the schools to use the loudspeakers for prayer.
So why is this instance of prayer such a big issue? The previously referenced 2000 Supreme Court decision, Sante Fe Independent School District v. Doe, clearly defines what is not acceptable.
“The delivery of a message such as the invocation here, on school property, at school-sponsored events, over the school’s public address system, by a speaker representing the student body, under the supervision of school faculty, and pursuant to a school policy that explicitly and implicitly encourages public prayer, is not properly characterized as ‘private speech.'”
Lawyers on the Cambridge side claim that the 2000 court case is not applicable to the situation as both schools in question are private schools, not public.
The lawsuit also points out that the FHSAA permitted University Christian and another Christian school, Dade Christian School, to use a loudspeaker for prayer during the 2012 championship.
If the organization permitted prayer over a loudspeaker in 2012, but in 2015 cited a 2000 case to deny the schools permission to pray over the loudspeaker, why did they not deny the prayer in 2012? What changed between 2012 and 2015 to make it illegal for the schools to pray in that manner?
Nothing on the national level has been passed by the Supreme Court. No new major laws inhibiting or restricting prayer at football games has been passed. If the FHSAA could permit the prayer in 2012, it should have also done so in 2015. Or vice-versa. The inconsistency of permission is one of the key points of the lawsuit.
One way or another, the FHSAA appears to be guilty of unconstitutional activity. Which side do you support? Let us know in the comment box below.
[Featured Image by Cambridge Christian School Website]