A Christian high school in Florida has just received a huge victory after a judge previously banned them from praying over the PA system before the state championship game.
According to a press release from First Liberty Institute, the 11th Circuit Court reversed, in part, a previous ruling preventing Cambridge Christian School (CCS) from praying ahead of the state football championship for the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) back in 2015.
The court acknowledged that CCS’s argument that its free speech and free exercise rights had been violated has merit and their case should be allowed to proceed to the district court.
The controversy began in 2015 when FHSAA first forbade CCS from using the loudspeaker to pray ahead of a championship game against University Christian School, another Christian private school.
Because the Camping World Stadium, home to the state’s Citrus Bowl college championship, is owned by the city of Orlando and the FHSAA is a state agency, it was determined at the time that allowing mass prayer at such a venue would violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment.
While the organization appears not to have had its hand in this case, this is the same fallacious logic commonly used by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a rabidly anti-religious atheist group whose mission is to snuff out any expression of Christianity in the public square—especially in schools.
While the FHSAA conveniently claims that its position as a governing body is a factor in its initial ban, the association is actually a private nonprofit corporation that has been awarded the title of the official governing body of interscholastic athletics. In other words, they aren’t a part of the government of Florida at all.
As for the venue, Camping World Stadium, why would it suddenly be inappropriate for a Christian school to pray for a moment before kickoff when famed evangelist Billy Graham held crusades at the exact same location twice?
First Liberty deputy general Jeremy Dys pointed out this inconsistency last year:
Most Americans have some memory of Graham standing on the dais erected over the end zone of a packed sports stadium, preaching the Gospel message of Jesus Christ over the stadium’s speakers, prompting millions of people to “come forward.”
Orlando’s Camping World Stadium is just such a stadium. When it opened as the Tangerine Bowl in 1969, Graham’s crusade christened it. He would return in 1983 when the City of Orlando — the owners of the stadium then, as now — renamed it the Citrus Bowl.
How far we’ve fallen in just a few short decades!
In 2017, a federal district judge ruled in favor of the FHSAA. First Liberty Institute appealed to the 11th Circuit, arguing that the First Amendment, in fact, protects the rights of students and staff of private Christian schools to honor their long tradition of prayer before football games and other school events.
The outcome of this lawsuit is vitally important. If a state actor, such as the FHSAA, can discriminate against religious schools and prevent them from praying for 30 seconds over a city-owned loudspeaker, can it then pick and choose other speech that it will not permit? What happens when the next Billy Graham wants to use the same public address system in the same stadium?
Billy Graham and Cambridge Christian School share more in common than Camping World Stadium. They both got their start in Tampa. Graham started his preaching tenure by preaching at the local gospel missions, inside the city stockade, and on Tampa’s “skid row.”
Thankfully, the State of Florida didn’t end Graham’s career by denying his right to express his religious viewpoints within some of the most famous, publicly owned venues in the nation.
Should the 11th Circuit approve of the FHSAA’s discrimination against the religious viewpoint of two Christian schools, one wonders what other activity in public, religious or otherwise, the state might censor.
“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. That is dangerous and unconstitutional,” said Hiram Sasser, general counsel for First Liberty.
“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,” Dys said of the appellate court decision. “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.”
Praise the Lord not only for the tenacity of organizations like First Liberty, but for the boldness of CCS students who wish to honor Him!
Our constitutional rights protect our freedom of speech and our free exercise of our faith, but secular organizations have used the First Amendment as a tool to silence us for far too long.
The right to freedom of speech is a precious gift from God, something citizens of other nations and other ages would gladly die defending—and have. Too many of us have grown a little too comfortable with wasting this gift and taking it for granted, but no longer! Let’s use it to spread the truth for God’s glory!
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