BY BRANDON LARRABEE
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
TALLAHASSEE – A dispute over whether two Christian schools could use the loudspeaker for a prayer at a football championship game is headed to federal court after one of the schools filed suit against an organization that manages high school sports in Florida.
The nonprofit that operates Cambridge Christian School in Tampa said the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) violated its civil rights by banning the private school and its opponent from joining in prayer over the loudspeaker at the game. The quasi-public athletic association has said it couldn’t allow a prayer over the loudspeaker because of the First Amendment’s ban on government organizations endorsing religion.
‘Loud’ prayer forbidden
The fight began in December, when Cambridge Christian was scheduled to play University Christian School, from Jacksonville, in the Class 2A football championship game in Orlando. The two schools traditionally offer prayers before football games at their home stadiums.
The FHSAA declined a request from both schools to allow them to use the loudspeaker for a prayer before the game, saying it would expose the association to “legal entanglements.” The association said it is subject to the same rules as government agencies because the Florida Legislature has recognized it as the governing body for high school athletics.
The two teams prayed together before kickoff of the championship game, but the lawsuit said fans couldn’t hear the prayer from the stands.
“Because the stadium is such a cavernous venue, it would be impossible for the Cambridge Christian and University Christian communities to join with one another in a community prayer without the use of the loudspeaker,” the lawsuit says. “As a result, the FHSAA’s refusal to allow Cambridge Christian to use the loudspeaker deprived the Cambridge Christian and University Christian communities of their ability to come together in a joint prayer.”
The suit argues that the move was a violation of Cambridge Christian’s rights to free exercise of religion and free speech, because the decision to ban the prayer was based only on religious content.
It claims the FHSAA violated the U.S. Constitution, the Florida Constitution and the Florida Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The suit asks the court to block the FHSAA from continuing to follow its policy in the future, as well as payment of the school’s attorneys’ fees.