Appeals Court Reverses FHSAA Ban on Game-Day Prayer | Athletic Business

Appeals Court Reverses FHSAA Ban on Game-Day Prayer

After a lower court backed the Florida High School Athletic Association decision to ban two Christian schools from saying prayers over a loudspeaker before a Division 2A state championship game at the Citrus Bowl, the Eleventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed that decision, thus allowing such prayers.

As reported by One News Now, the controversy dates back to the 2015 Florida state football championship game between University Christian School and Cambridge Christian School at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla. "[The Citrus Bowl Stadium] is a public facility — predominantly paid for with public tax dollars — [making] the facility 'off limits' under federal guidelines and precedent court cases," then FHSAA executive director Roger Dearing told the teams at the time. "In Florida Statutes, the FHSAA is legally a 'State Actor' – we cannot legally permit or grant permission for such an activity."

In September 2016, First Liberty and the law firm Greenberg Traurig filed suit against the FHSAA, with a magistrate court siding with FHSAA in February 2017. In June 2017, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida Judge Charlene Edwards Honeywell affirmed the report and recommendation of the magistrate court.

Despite last week's reversal, the appeals court maintained that there is still merit in the complaint — asserting that the matter should continue to go to trial — and Jeremy Dys, special counsel for litigation and communications at First Liberty Institute, looks forward to arguing his clients' case. "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 explained in a press release. "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."

However, the court indicated that the FSHAA acted in haste in making its initial determination. "The lower court was too quick to pull the trigger insofar as it dismissed the [Cambridge Christian's] free speech and free exercise [of religion] claims," the Eleventh Circuit's 70-page decision stated. "We cannot say whether these claims will ultimately succeed, but Cambridge Christian has plausibly alleged enough to enter the courtroom and be heard."

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