Florida is Serious about Separation of Church and State

by | Jun 8, 2017

 

The Florida High School Athletic Association has won again, after being accused of violating free speech and other constitutional rights of a private school in Tampa.

The incident that led to the court case started in 2015 in Orlando during a championship game at Camping World Stadium, between Cambridge Christian and Jacksonville’s University Christian School.

U.S. District Judge Charlene Edwards Honeywell wrote that players and coaches for both Cambridge Christian and University Christian met on the field for prayer before kickoff and could no be heard by the crowd watching in the stands.

Representative’s of Cambridge Christian also wanted to say a prayer using the stadium’s loud speaker, so everyone in attendance could hear the prayer, but the FHSAA said no.

After the game, Cambridge Christian filed a lawsuit claiming FHSAA had violated free-speech and other constitutional rights by not allowing the prayer over the speaker.

By rejecting Cambridge Christian’s request for pre-game prayer over the loudspeaker on the basis of its religious character and viewpoint, the FHSAA unlawfully prohibited Cambridge Christian’s private religious speech and unreasonably burdened its right to freedom of speech and free exercise of religion. In so doing, the FHSAA violated Cambridge Christian’s civil and religious rights under the United States and Florida Constitutions and the Florida Religious Freedom Restoration Act” wrote the attorney for Cambridge Christian.

But Honeywell, upheld the recommendation from a magistrate judge, writing it is “clear that if the prayer was offered by the public-address announcer, this would be viewed as an endorsement by the state, which would be impermissible.”

She also wrote:

Cambridge Christian argues that it never requested the public address announcer to give the prayer, but that it instead sought access to the loudspeaker so that a representative of either school could pray over the loudspeaker. This, however, amounts to a request that the FHSAA open its loudspeaker, which otherwise is not accessible to private parties, to allow for prayer to be broadcast during a government controlled and hosted event. This would likewise be perceived as state endorsement of Cambridge Christian’s religious message.”

Side note: Cambridge Christian not only lost the court case, twice, they also lost that championship game against University Christian, 61-16.

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