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A Florida judge says a prayer lawsuit against a high school athletic league should be tossed out. The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed an amicus brief in the case.
U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Amanda Arnold Sansone issued a Feb. 3 recommendation to dismiss a case brought by Cambridge Christian School against the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA). The First Liberty Institute, a Christian advocacy group, filed the suit in September, arguing that the association was mandated to allow Cambridge Christian to deliver a Christian prayer over the public address system at state championship events in which the school participates. Sansone found that Cambridge Christian's request for a preliminary injunction should be denied and its suit should be dismissed.
FFRF and its chapter, the Central Florida Freethought Community, filed an amicus brief in the case, arguing that the school did not have a First Amendment right to commandeer the public address system. "Cambridge Christian wants to force a state agency to promote its Christian message through a mechanism limited to conveying government speech," FFRF stated in its brief.
The judge's recommendation likewise found that the prayer would be viewed as coming from the government. Sansone wrote that she reached "the inescapable conclusion that the nature of the entirety of the speech, including the proposed prayer, throughout the championship game over the loudspeaker is government speech."
Cambridge Christian's free exercise claim was also recommended for dismissal. The report noted that the suit did not include "a single allegation that Cambridge Christian or any of its members were deprived of their right to pray at the championship game. On the contrary, both Cambridge Christian's team and the opposing team were permitted to pray together at the most centrally focused and public area of the stadium — the 50-yard line." Sansone wrote that she "remains at a loss as to how the FHSAA's refusal to permit Cambridge Christian to utilize the FHSAA-controlled loudspeaker to broadcast the teams' pre-game prayer violated Cambridge Christian's or its members' rights under the Free Exercise Clause."
"The Central Florida Freethought Community applauds the magistrate judge's decision to dismiss, since Cambridge Christian was not denied the right to pray at all," says the organization's board member Keith Becher. "The FHSAA, as a state actor, has an appropriate policy in place and should be commended for following it. This is simply a case of a Christian school not being allowed to use the machinery of the government to further its mission of evangelism."
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor adds, "This case represents an extraordinary sense of entitlement by a Christian school that wants to impose its religion on anyone who is present at a state-sponsored game."
The magistrate judge's report and recommendation was submitted to District Judge Charlene Edwards Honeywell, who may adopt the recommendation or author her own decision.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation wholeheartedly supports a new bill to end immigration discrimination against people of any religious belief — including those with no religious belief.
Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., a former U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, recently introduced in Congress the Freedom of Religion Act of 2017. The bill, which already has more than 100 co-sponsors, has clear language providing nontheists protection from the type of religion-based policies that the Trump administration has put into place. "Notwithstanding any other provision of the immigration laws, an alien may not be denied entry, re-entry, or admission to the United States, or any other immigration benefit, because of the alien's religion or lack of religious beliefs," a provision reads.
FFRF enthusiastically applauds a bill that not only upholds the Establishment Clause but contains such a clear reference to nonbelievers' rights. It is urging its more than 26,000 members nationwide to actively support the Freedom of Religion Act. (The bill has also drawn support from leading human rights and civil liberties organizations such as Amnesty International and the ACLU.)
"In these troubled times, we're overjoyed that our nation's legislators are keeping in their consciousness the rights of freethinkers worldwide," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "Good luck to Rep. Beyer's efforts."
The plight of nonbelievers in other countries is of deep concern to FFRF since the organization has been deeply involved through its charitable arm Nonbelief Relief Inc. to assist and relocate imperiled atheist Bangladeshi activists and bloggers.
Beyer wrote a moving column for Politico explaining his motivation for reintroducing the Freedom of Religion Act (a previous version died last session). The piece tells of the multiple miseries he witnessed during a recent visit to Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C., as a result of the new immigration rules.
"The afternoon and early evening were spent with human story after story, some tragic, others sad, all frightened," he wrote. "Last year, worried about the possibility of a situation just like this, I introduced a bill called the Freedom of Religion Act. The bill would make it illegal to deny admission to the U.S. on the basis of religion. I will be reintroducing this legislation this week, and hope that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will support it."
FFRF also praises Rep. Mark Pocan, the member of Congress representing its hometown of Madison, Wis., for being among the co-sponsors of a bill profoundly inspired by our nation's foundational document.
"Religious freedom is a defining value of the United States, guaranteed by the Founding Fathers in the First Amendment of the Constitution," Beyer said in the press release introducing the Freedom of Religion Act of 2017. "Today's legislation won't erase the pain from President Trump's ban, but it will ensure that this sort of immoral action never happens again and show the world that America still honors its founding principles."
It couldn't be stated better.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a state/church watchdog organization with more than 26,000 nonreligious members nationally and chapters all over the country.
Image from FCNP.