Prayers at high school football games: When is school prayer legal?

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Six weeks after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a praying football coach and clarified its stance on school prayer, a separate but related case approached the judges’ offices when a Florida Christian School advanced its fight to pray over loudspeaker. at state championship games.

The new case, which is currently awaiting a decision from the 11th United States Circuit Court of Appeals, stems from a Florida High School Athletic Association policy that prohibits loudspeaker prayers in public stadiums, even when a match involves two religious schools.

The association “claims that any speech delivered over the loudspeaker is government speech” and therefore cannot convey a religious message, according to the Cambridge Christian School’s appeal to the 11th Circuit.

The appeal was necessary after the district court ruled against the school in April, ruling that the association could block Christian schools from accessing the speaker without violating their religious freedom rights.

The case “is not whether two Christian schools can pray together at a football game,” the ruling said, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Instead, it’s “if the First Amendment required (the association) to grant teams unrestricted access to the public address system.”

The decision noted that the Florida High School Athletic Association did not stop Cambridge Christian School and its opponent from praying on the field before and after the 2015 championship game.

The appeal, filed earlier this month, argues that the district court misapplied recent Supreme Court rulings regarding the Establishment Clause.

“Rather than uphold the First Amendment’s dual protections for religious expression, the lower court would have us tamp it down.” We hope the 11th Circuit corrects the lower court’s decision by reminding us all that the Constitution protects religious speech, even when it occurs on government property,” said Jeremy Dys, senior counsel for the First Liberty Institute, in a press release.

First Liberty is representing Cambridge Christian School in the ongoing case and also represented praying football coach Joe Kennedy in the Supreme Court.

Although the Supreme Court ruled this year that certain prayers on football fields are constitutionally protected, it has previously ruled that public schools should not broadcast prayers over the loudspeaker before games, even if the prayers are led by students.

“The court emphasized that the Constitution does not authorize schools to require students to choose between being full participants in their school community and adhering to their conscience in matters of religion,” writes the Joint Baptist Committee for Freedom. religious in its summary of this previous supreme decision. Court case.

The 6-3 majority in the football coaches case reaffirmed that old decision in this year’s ruling. By law, informal, voluntary prayers are different from formal prayers that cannot be ignored, the judges wrote.

In the aftermath of the ruling, many legal and religious experts predicted that the ruling would lead to more school prayer disputes, not less, and the Florida case seems to prove their point.

But others are still hoping the tension around school prayer will begin to resolve outside the courtroom.

“I hope there is more thought and humility about the life that Christians lead and how we can work together for the common good,” said Paul Putz, associate director of the Faith & Sports Institute. of Baylor University Theological Seminary, to the Deseret News earlier. this month.

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