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Judge rules against Florida school in pregame prayer case

A federal judge has ruled against a Florida school that claimed its constitutional rights were violated when it was prevented from using the loudspeaker for prayer prior to a 2015 football game.

U.S. District Judge Charlene Edwards Honeywell determined that the Florida High School Athletic Association’s (FHSAA) decision to not allow Cambridge Christian to pray over the stadium’s loudspeaker was not a violation of free speech. The Tampa school filed the lawsuit claiming the FHSAA violated state and U.S. Constitutions.

In February, a magistrate judge recommended that the lawsuit be dismissed based on the fact that the team was not prevented from praying. It was only told it could not do so over the stadium’s PA system.

From Florida’s News Service:

“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 likewise be perceived as state endorsement of Cambridge Christian’s religious message.”

“As previously noted, the FHSAA did not prevent or discourage Cambridge Christian or the spectators at the stadium from praying, or from disseminating that prayer to all in attendance,” the 30-page ruling said. “Moreover, even if denial of access to the loudspeaker did burden a religious belief of Cambridge Christian, such a burden did not amount to a substantial one, but simply inconvenienced the belief, because Cambridge Christian was not denied alternate means of engaging in communal prayer.”

The Supreme Court determined in 2000 — Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe — that student-led prayer at football games is a violation of the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment. Schools have largely steered clear of prayer at any school-sanctioned event to avoid legal trouble.

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