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Christian School Appeals Ruling Barring Prayer Before Championship Football Game

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Joshua Gill Religion Reporter

A Christian school is fighting a court ruling that barred it from praying before a football game, arguing the ruling violated the school’s religious rights.

Cambridge Christian School, a private school in Tampa, Fla., announced Tuesday it is filing to appeal the June 7 ruling of a federal judge that upheld the Florida High School Athletic Association’s (FHSAA) decision to bar the school from using a loudspeaker to pray before a 2015 championship football game. The school will file their case to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The school filed their lawsuit against FHSAA in September 2016, alleging the organization, which governs student athletics in Florida, violated federal law and the Florida Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The FHSAA refused to let representatives from either school involved in the game use the loudspeaker for prayer. This was despite the fact that the schools notified the FHSAA a week in advance that they wished to use the stadium loudspeaker, which was used for private messages throughout the game, for their traditional pregame prayer. The school’s arguments found no favor with U.S. District Judge Charlene Edwards Honeywell, who ruled against them in line with a magistrate’s recommendation.

“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,” Honeywell wrote. “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 … be perceived as state endorsement of Cambridge Christian’s religious message.”

Honeywell’s ruling amounts to an assault on free speech, according to Hiram Sasser,  Deputy Chief Counsel for First Liberty Institute. The institute is representing the school in their appeal.

“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 said. “We will appeal this ruling and continue to fight against this incredible assault on the First Amendment.”

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