Ban on Christian Prayer at High School Football Games Lifted by Appeals Court
U.S. Court of Appeals has reversed a lower court’s decision prohibiting praying
A ban that was placed to prevent two Christian high school football teams from praying during games has been lifted by an appeals court.
A U.S. Court of Appeals reversed the decision by a lower court that prohibited two Christian schools from praying over the loudspeaker before a state championship game at the Citrus Bowl in Tampa, Florida.
Cambridge Christian School’s argument that its free speech and free exercise rights had been violated was acknowledged by the 11th Circuit Court.
The Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) banned Cambridge Christian School (CCS) from praying before the start of a football game against University Christian School in 2015.
“The FHSAA suggested that because the stadium was city-owned and the FHSAA a state agency, it would violate the Constitution to allow two private Christian schools to pray over a state-owned microphone for less than a minute,” a statement from First Liberty Institute, which is representing CCS, explained.
The players, coaches, and fans were reportedly devastated after the FHSAA issued its decision.
“We were really excited to play in the championship game,” said team member Jacob Enns at the time.
"It’s been our tradition to pray ever since I’ve been on the team.
"But then they said we couldn’t pray and our tradition was ruined. It was so disappointing
“By banning the pregame prayer over the loudspeaker, the FHSAA sent a message to these students that prayer is wrong and something you should be ashamed of,” asserted Hiram Sasser, general counsel for First Liberty.
"That is dangerous and unconstitutional."
In February 2017, a federal district judge sided with the FHSAA.
First Liberty Institute appealed to the 11th Circuit, arguing that 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.
“First they told us public schools cannot pray over the loudspeaker," explained Sasser, who called the lower court’s decision “an incredible assault on the First Amendment.”
"Now they say two private Christian schools cannot pray over the loudspeaker.
"When will this assault on free speech stop?” asked Sasser.
“We are grateful to have won this appeal and look forward to presenting our case on behalf of Cambridge Christian School to the district court,” said Jeremy Dys, special counsel for litigation and communications at First Liberty, which is representing the school.
“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.”