The Freedom From Religion Foundation has filed a brief at the appeals court level in support of a state athletic association against a Florida Christian school that wants to compel prayers at state football games.
Cambridge Christian School in Tampa, Fla., initiated a federal lawsuit last year targeting the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA), a state entity, demanding that it provide access to a public address system so that the school's prayers could be broadcast before games. The case stemmed from a game on Dec. 4, 2015, where the school's insistence on using the PA system for prayer was properly declined by the association, which manages game announcements. The Christian school lost its case at the U.S. District Court early this year. Cambridge Christian School is appealing the decision to the 11th U.S. District Court of Appeals.
FFRF and its local chapter, Central Florida Freethought Community, had filed friends-of-the-court briefs before the district court and are again filing an amicus brief before the appeals court contending that Cambridge Christian has no case.
"Cambridge Christian School has sought to force the Florida High School Athletic Association to broadcast prayers over the public-address system at state championship competitions that the FHSAA hosts," FFRF writes in its brief. "Cambridge Christian's Free Speech claim fails because it has not established that a forum exists for private speech. Speech over the public-address system at FHSAA championship competitions is government speech under the First Amendment."
FFRF contends that a private religious school does not have a constitutional right to commandeer the PA system at a state-sponsored athletic competition and impose prayer on public school players. The Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment protects only private speech, not government speech. If the Florida High School Athletic Association were forced to broadcast Christian prayers, it would violate the constitutional rights of thousands of families. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the association from endorsing or advancing religion.
"Messages over the FHSAA-controlled public address system constitute government speech," FFRF concludes. "Cambridge Christian does not have a Free Speech right to take over a public address system that is used for government speech and to use it for its own religious purposes."
FFRF and the Central Florida Freethought Community are asking the appeals court to affirm the lower court's dismissal of Cambridge Christian's case.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is an organization dedicated to the separation of state and church. It has approximately 30,000 nonreligious members and 20 chapters all over the country, including more than 1,500 members and the Central Florida Freethought Community chapter in Florida.
Image via Shutterstock by Floridastock