The Freedom From Religion Foundation has filed an amicus brief against a Florida Christian school that wants to broadcast pregame prayers at state championship football games.
Cambridge Christian School in Tampa, Fla., filed a federal lawsuit last month targeting the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA), a state entity, asking that it provide access to a public-address system so that the school's prayers could be heard loud and clear before games. The case stemmed from a Dec. 4, 2015, game where the school's request to use the public-address system for prayers was declined by the association, which manages game announcements. The association recently asked a Florida district court judge to toss out the lawsuit. FFRF and its local chapter, Central Florida Freethought Community, have filed friends-of-the-court briefs asserting that Cambridge Christian has no case to make.
"Cambridge Christian wants to force a state agency to promote its Christian message through a mechanism limited to conveying government speech," FFRF states in the brief. "The Florida High School Athletic Association has rightly declined to do so because it would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment."
Students who participate in the association's athletic championship competitions or attend the competitions cannot be the subjects of publicly broadcast prayer by the association, FFRF contends. This remains true even when private Christian schools participate. Under the Establishment Clause, the government may not endorse religion, and there is no exception to be made for when most members of the audience would be receptive to the religious message. The Florida High School Athletic Association cannot be the mouthpiece of religious organizations or be used to gather event attendees to engage in a communal expression of Christian religious worship.
FFRF also argues that a ruling in favor of Cambridge Christian would harm the public.
"In this case, an injunction would be adverse to the public interest because it would violate the rights of participants, spectators and those who view the game broadcast," it says.
The Central Florida Freethought Community agrees. "We hope the court will see that this is not a matter of censorship, but the appropriate use of a public facility for a secular sporting event," says Director Jocelyn Williamson.
FFRF and the Central Florida Freethought Community are asking the court to rule against Cambridge Christian's motion for an injunction.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is an organization dedicated to the separation of state and church, with has a national enrollment of 23,000 nonreligious members, including more than 1,000 in Florida.