Since the inception of the football program, the school’s tradition of praying over the loudspeaker before football games has never been broken, until now. Before kick-off, players, coaches, and fans pause as a student, parent, or faculty member offers a short prayer over the loudspeaker—the only way players and their parents can unite in prayer in a stadium.
In the fall of 2015, the CCS Lancers won their way to the state football championship for the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) 2A division. The game was scheduled for Friday, December 4, 2015 at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida, where the Lancers would face off against University Christian School.
Since both of the Christian schools had a tradition of pre-game prayer, CCS asked to use the loudspeaker to offer a prayer in the cavernous stadium before kick-off at the championship game. The FHSAA denied the request, forbidding the schools from praying over the loudspeaker. The association argued that somehow this could be viewed as an endorsement of religion since the Christian schools would be praying on government property.
The football players, coaches and fans were devastated by the FHSAA’s decision.
Jacob Enns said, “We were really excited to play in the championship game. 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.”
First Liberty attorneys sent a demand letter to FHSAA behalf of Cambridge Christian School on January 26, 2016, arguing that the FHSAA violated CCS’s rights as a religious institution.
On September 26, 2016, First Liberty attorneys, along with concerned parents and teachers, appeared at an FHSAA board meeting and asked the FHSAA to adopt a policy that would respect the religious freedom of students across the state of Florida. The FHSAA declined to take action, so on September 27, First Liberty Institute along with the volunteer law firm of Greenberg Traurig filed a lawsuit against the FHSAA. Read the lawsuit.
“By banning the pre-game prayer over the loudspeaker, the FHSAA sent a message to these students that prayer is wrong and something you should be ashamed of. That is dangerous and unconstitutional,” said Hiram Sasser, General Counsel for First Liberty.
On February 3, 2017, a Tampa district magistrate issued a “report and recommendation,” stating the two Christian schools cannot pray over the loudspeaker at the Citrus Bowl. Read the report and recommendation.
“First they told us public schools cannot pray over the loudspeaker. Now they say two private Christian schools cannot pray over the loudspeaker. When will this assault on free speech stop?” Sasser asked. “We will appeal this ruling and continue to fight against this incredible assault on the First Amendment.”
On October 20, 2017, attorneys with First Liberty Institute and Greenberg Traurig filed a brief before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit on behalf of Cambridge Christian School. Oral arguments at the Eleventh Circuit took place in September of 2018.
Jeremy Dys, Deputy General Counsel for First Liberty stated, “We are confident that the Eleventh Circuit will recognize this for what it is: an assault on the First Amendment, particularly the students’ and teachers’ rights to free speech and the free exercise of religion.”
For Immediate Release: October 23, 2017
Contact: Lacey McNiel, firstname.lastname@example.org
Private Christian School on Offense: High School Football Team Fights Back Against Prohibited Prayer at Championship Game
Cambridge Christian School appeals to U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
ATLANTA, Ga.—Friday, October 21, First Liberty Institute and Greenberg Traurig, P.A. filed a brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit on behalf of their client, Cambridge Christian School (CCS)—a private Christian school in Tampa, Florida. In 2015, the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) forbade CCS from praying over the loudspeaker prior to the Citrus Bowl ahead of the state championship football game, even though both participating teams were Christian schools and had a tradition of prayer before games. In February, a federal district judge sided with the FHSAA.
“By banning two private Christian schools from praying over the loudspeaker before a football game while allowing other, non-religious messages to come across the same speaker, the FHSAA is telling high school kids that prayer in public is wrong,” said Jeremy Dys, Deputy General Counsel for First Liberty. “We hope the Eleventh Circuit will recognize this for what it is: an assault on the First Amendment and the censorship of religious speech—because it is religious—of two private, Christian schools.”
Prior to the 2015 championship game, CCS asked to continue their tradition of opening the game with prayer over the loudspeaker, a long-standing tradition that allows students on the field and their parents and fans in the stands to unite prior to kickoff. The FHSAA refused, suggesting 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.
“First, they told religious students that if you want to pray in school, then they have to attend a private, religious school. They did, but even then they have been told they cannot pray in public,” said Dys. “Where else do these religious students have to go? Must they now form their own league in order to exercise the rights guaranteed to them under the Constitution?”
To learn more, visit FirstLiberty.org/Cambridge.
About First Liberty Institute
First Liberty Institute is a non-profit public interest law firm and the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans.
To arrange an interview, contact Lacey McNiel at email@example.com or by calling 972-941-4453. First Liberty has access to a ReadyCam studio and can provide video comment on short notice.
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