Florida considers bill that would force athletic association to allow prayer at school sporting events

The Florida House of Representatives passed legislation Tuesday that would mandate that the state's athletic association allow schools to broadcast prayer over a public-address system before sporting events.

It specifically targeted the Florida High School Athletic Association [FHSAA], which has described itself as the "official governing body for interscholastic athletics in Florida." According to the legislation, the FHSAA would be required to provide a 30-second period for opening remarks, including prayer, at games.

The leglslation read: "The FHSAA shall adopt bylaws or policies that require, prior to the start of all athletic events conducted under the direction and supervision of the FHSAA, including but not limited to Florida High School State Championship Series events, that each participating school be provided 30 seconds for opening remarks over the public-address system."

It also read: "Prior to the opening remarks, the public-address announcer shall announce that the content of any opening remarks by a participating school is not endorsed by and does not reflect the views and opinions of the FHSAA." The FHSAA declined to comment.

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The state Senate has been considering the bill, which would need the governor's approval to become law.

In 2015, the FHSAA argued that Cambridge Christian School of Tampa could not deliver such prayer before a championship game against University Christian School of Jacksonville, because the microphone was state-owned and it would violate the Constitution. The association cited the Supreme Court's Establishment Clause as precedent and the principle of separation of church and state.

First Liberty Institute, a nonprofit law firm representing Cambridge Christian School, argued that the association's actions violated the school's First Amendment rights.

"The First Amendment protects the rights of students and teachers at a private Christian school to pray before a football game, especially when both teams are Christian and have a tradition of prayer before games," said Jeremy Dys, First Liberty's special counsel for litigation and communications.

Florida State University football coach Tommy Bowden similarly argued that the FHSSA's decision was "confusing and frustrating."

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"Why has the state’s agency charged with administering high school sports spent hundreds of thousands of its dollars paying attorneys to prevent a simple, 30-second prayer by two Christian schools?" he asked in a Monday op-ed. He added that the legislation seemed like a "reasonable, even creative, solution."

This past November, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed, in part, a lower court's decision allowing the FHSAA to prohibit the two schools from airing a joint prayer over the loudspeaker at the 2015 Division 2A Florida state football championship in Orlando.

Fox News' Caleb Parke contributed to this report.