Last December the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) refused to allow a private Christian school to deliver a pregame prayer over a loudspeaker before a championship football game.
On Sept. 27 Cambridge Christian School filed a federal lawsuit against the FHSAA alleging they unlawfully censored the prayer and violated the players’ religious freedoms.
“This is a case about the restriction of a Christian school’s private speech through a policy and a practice that discriminates between religious and secular speech,” attorney Adam Foslid, with the law firm of Greenberg Traurig, said in a prepared statement.
First Liberty Institute is also representing the Christian school.
The case stems from a Dec. 4th game between Cambridge Christian and University Christian School. The game was played at Camping World Stadium in Orlando.
Cambridge asked permission to use the public address system to deliver a pregame prayer – a long-standing school tradition.
“We are raising godly young men that can make a difference in the world they live in,” Coach Bob Dare said. “This is why CCS has committed to praying before every home football game.”
However, the Florida High School Athletic Association denied their request – and refused to let them use the taxpayer-funded microphone.
“Although both schools are private and religious-affiliated institutions, the federal law addresses two pertinent issues that prevent us from granting your request,” FHSAA executive director Roger Dearing wrote to Headmaster Tim Euler.
“First is the fact that the facility is a public facility, predominantly paid for with public tax dollars, makes the facility ‘off limits’ under federal guidelines and precedent court cases,” Dearing wrote. “Second, is the fact that in Florida Statutes, the FHSAA (host and coordinator of the event) is legally a ‘State Actor’, we cannot legally permit or grant permission for such an activity.”
Both teams ended up gathering on the field to pray – but fans and spectators were unable to hear.
“Thus, by denying access to the loudspeaker, the FHSAA denied the students, parents, and fans in attendance the right to participate in the players’ prayer or to otherwise come together in prayer as one Christian community,” the lawsuit states.
Headmaster Euler tells me he never thought he would see the day in America where a Christian school would have to go to court to defend a 30-second pregame prayer.
“This is an opportunity for us to defend our faith as a school,” he said. “And I think more and more as followers of Christ, we’ve got to stand in the gap and defend biblical principles.”
First Liberty Institute attorney Jeremy Dys told me the Florida High School Athletic Association committed an egregious violation of the U.S. Constitution.
“They’re telling the Christian school that because your speech is religious, it’s not welcome here,” he said.
Euler said the school has no choice but to wage a legal battle with the FHSAA.
“When I stand before my students and say you’ve got to defend your faith in public – if I refuse to do that as a leader of this school, how can I ask them to do that?” he said.
Sadly, we live in a radically transformed nation – where people of faith are no longer welcome to practice what they preach in the public marketplace.
Those who wish to disparage America are given accommodation at football stadiums, but those who wish to pray are silenced.
Todd Starnes is host of Fox News & Commentary, heard on hundreds of radio stations. His latest book is "God Less America: Real Stories From the Front Lines of the Attack on Traditional Values." Follow Todd on Twitter @ToddStarnes and find him on Facebook.