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Florida Ed Commish Backs Prayer at HS Football Games

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Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran wants the Florida High School Athletic Association to reconsider policies that prevented Christian schools from offering a prayer over the stadium loudspeaker before a 2015 state championship football game.

The Tampa Bay Times reports that Corcoran sent a letter Friday calling on the Florida High School Athletic Association to “conduct an immediate review of its policies and procedures to ensure religious expression is permitted to the greatest extent possible under the law.”

“I expect this to be heard, addressed and updated at the next available Florida High School Athletic Association Board of Directors meeting,” Corcoran wrote. “Policies that are overbroad or restrictive may deny students their constitutional right to private religious expression. Such policies must be immediately repealed and replaced with policies that are consistent with the religious freedoms guaranteed under the Constitution.”

Corcoran sent the letter to FHSAA executive director George Tomyn a month after a federal appeals court gave a boost to a lawsuit filed in 2016 by Cambridge Christian School of Tampa, which was denied access to a stadium loudspeaker to offer a pregame prayer before a football championship game at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, according to the Times.

The FHSAA prevented either Cambridge Christian or Jacksonville’s University Christian School from using the public address system for a prayer, saying in court documents that such a prayer would have been viewed as “government speech.” Cambridge Christian filed a lawsuit against the athletic association, arguing that the decision blocking the use of the loudspeaker for the prayer violated First Amendment rights. U.S. District Court Judge Charlene Edwards Honeywell dismissed the case, arguing that Cambridge Christian’s position “amounts to a request that the Florida High School Athletic Association 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 likewise be perceived as state endorsement of Cambridge Christian’s religious message.”

In overturning that ruling, a three-judge appeals panel said issues in the case deserve additional scrutiny.

Honeywell has scheduled a Dec. 30 conference call to discuss the status of the case.

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