Skip to main content

Christian School Asks 11th Circuit to Strike Down Prayer Ban at Football Games

Share This article

Attorneys for a Tampa, Florida Christian school recently told an Atlanta-based federal appeals court that prayer over a loudspeaker before a football game is protected by the U.S. Constitution. 

It was the latest salvo fired in a seven-year legal battle pitting Cambridge Christian School against the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA).

In 2015, the FHSAA forbade the school from praying over the loudspeaker at the Citrus Bowl ahead of the state championship football game. The FHSAA stated that because the stadium is city-owned and the FHSAA is a government actor, it would violate the Constitution to allow two private Christian schools to pray over the stadium's loudspeaker for less than a minute.  

The school is represented by First Liberty Institute, a nonprofit legal organization that protects religious freedom, and the law firms Boies Schiller Flexner LLP, Winston and Strawn, LLP, and Jones Day.

"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," First Liberty Institute Senior Counsel Jeremy Dys said in a press release. 

"By banning the pre-game prayer over the loudspeaker, the Florida High School Athletic Association sent a message to these students that prayer is wrong and something you should be ashamed of. That is dangerous and unconstitutional," he added. 

slider img 2In November 2019, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Cambridge Christian School's argument that its free speech and free exercise rights were violated had merit and should proceed.  But in 2022, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida issued a judgment in FHSAA's favor.  In August 2022, Cambridge Christian again appealed to the Eleventh Circuit and arguments were heard on June 27. 

Early last month, The News Service of Florida reported a new state law could affect the school's case. The FHSAA filed a brief arguing the appeals court should dismiss the case in part because the new law will allow such prayers. 

In May, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed HB 225 into law. It allows teams to provide brief opening remarks, including prayers, before high school athletic contests.

The law reads in part:  

"Each athletic association designated under whose membership includes public schools shall adopt bylaws, policies, or procedures that provide each school participating in a high school championship contest or series of contests under the direction and supervision of the association the opportunity to make brief opening remarks, if requested by the school, using the public address system at the event. Such remarks may not be longer than 2 minutes per participating school. The athletic association may not control, monitor, or review the content of the opening remarks and may not control the school's choice of speaker."

Attorneys for Cambridge Christian School still argued at the June 27, however, that the association needs to adopt new policies to safeguard its ability to offer prayers at championships games, according to the Courthouse News Service

Attorney Jesse Panuccio of Boies Schiller Flexner LLP told the outlet the new state law does not ensure legal relief for the school. 

"That is a constitutional judgment that they've come to and that would override any state law according to them," Panuccio said. "As far as we can tell, the prayer ban is still in place."

He pointed out that the FHSAA had justified the prayer ban by invoking the First Amendment's establishment clause, which overrides state law.

"There is no longer any imminent or impending threat of injury to the school,"  Daniel Mahfood, an attorney with Holland & Knight who is representing the state association told Courthouse News.  "If a school wants to say a prayer, by law they now have that right."

The outlet reported the Eleventh Circuit's three-judge panel gave no indication when it would hand down its latest decision in the case. 

***Please sign up for CBN Newsletters and download the CBN News app to ensure you keep receiving the latest news from a distinctly Christian perspective.***

Share This article

About The Author

Steve Warren is a senior multimedia producer for CBN News. Warren has worked in the news departments of television stations and cable networks across the country. In addition, he also worked as a producer-director in television production and on-air promotion. A Civil War historian, he authored the book The Second Battle of Cabin Creek: Brilliant Victory. It was the companion book to the television documentary titled Last Raid at Cabin Creek currently streaming on Amazon Prime. He holds an M.A. in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma and a B.A. in Communication from the University of