A Florida Christian school is defending its right to pray over loudspeakers at state championship sporting events, citing the Supreme Court’s decision this summer in favor of a Washington state public high school football coach praying at the 50-yard line has after games.
Cambridge Christian School in Tampa, Fla. this week appealed to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, asking the court to overturn a lower court’s decision on the side of the Florida High School Athletic Association that banned the prayers .
The Florida High School Athletic Association enacted a new rule in 2015 that prevented two Christian schools from broadcasting a pregame prayer over loudspeakers before a championship game at the Citrus Bowl, a stadium owned and operated by the City of Orlando. However, prayers were allowed during regular games, according to court records.
“The Constitution protects the best of our traditions, like praying before a sporting event, from censorship,” said Jeremy Dys, senior counsel for the First Liberty Institute, a pro-religious rights group that represented Coach Joseph Kennedy in his successful Supreme Court battle.
“Instead of respecting the First Amendment’s dual protections for religious expression, the lower court would require us to silence it. We hope that the 11th Circuit Court will correct the lower court’s decision by reminding us all that the Constitution protects religious expression even when it appears on state property,” added Mr Dys.
The Supreme Court ruled on Mr Kennedy in June after he was fired from the local public school district for praying at the 50-yard line immediately after games, saying the government could not arrest him for personal, private religious expressions punish.
The 6-3 ruling, penned by Judge Neil M. Gorsuch, said the prayers were private and the coach did not compel the students to attend.
“The Constitution and the best of our traditions advise mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and repression, of both religious and non-religious views,” Justice Gorsuch wrote for the court.
The 11th Circuit will decide whether the recent High Court precedent extends to praying aloud over a speaker at state championship games.
Robert Tuttle, a law professor at George Washington University, said the Supreme Court is unlikely to override a separate case in the 2000 Establishment Clause, Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, which prohibited student-led prayer over a loudspeaker set and decide that this was public speaking and not private.
“My guess is that the Kennedy District Court will interpret narrowly and distinguish between private personal prayer and school-sponsored public prayer. The Supreme Court doesn’t usually like lower courts overruling precedent… and this case would have that effect,” Mr Tuttle said.
A Florida High School Athletic Association official had in previous years allowed pregame prayers between Christian schools but banned them in 2015, saying the stadium itself is public and paid for with taxpayers’ money. The official also said that FHSAA is a “government actor” and must separate church and state activities, according to the court filing.
Schools prayed without loudspeakers on the field during the 2015 championship game. However, parents in the stands complained that they could not hear and participate in the prayer.
A spokesman for FHSAA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the appeal.