For over 50 years, Cambridge Christian School (CCS), has educated and equipped students in Tampa, Florida. Their faith-based mission is clear:
To glorify God in all that we do; to demonstrate excellence at every level of academic, athletic and artistic involvement; to develop strength of character; and to serve the local and global community.
Tim Euler, the Head of School of CCS, said, “In the football program, we are working to raise godly young men that can make a difference in the world. Prayer is a big part of that. It’s central to who we are as a school and a team.”
One way the school administrators teach students to “glorify God” is through prayer—including at their sporting events. Since the inception of the football program, the school has had a tradition of praying over the loudspeaker before football games. Before kick-off, players, coaches, and fans will pause as a student, parent, or faculty member offers a short prayer.
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 for permission to offer a prayer over the loudspeaker 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 private prayer 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.”
On January 26, 2016, First Liberty attorneys sent a demand letter to FHSAA behalf of Cambridge Christian School, arguing that the FHSAA violated CCS’s rights as a religious institution.
“By banning their customary pre-game prayer over the loudspeaker, the FHSAA prohibited the students’ and teachers’ free exercise of religion,” said Hiram Sasser, Deputy Chief Counsel for First Liberty. “That is a violation of the First Amendment.”
First Liberty’s letter explains that, if uncontested, FHSAA’s demands would severely limit the religious liberty of the thousands of students, teachers, and administrators of Florida’s religious schools.
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 content neutral policy to respect religious freedom. The FHSAA declined to take action, so on September 27, First Liberty Institute along with volunteer law firm 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 Sasser.
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.”
Video Credit: Polyphonic Image, courtesy of First Liberty
Photo Credit: Beth Dare Photography, courtesy of First Liberty