Christian Students Told They Can't Pray at Championship Game
Attorneys for two Christian high school football teams forbidden to pray before a championship game are asking for an apology.
The Liberty Institute issued a demand letter Tuesday to the Florida High School Athletic Association for its "unlawful censorship" of the students and the direct violation of their First Amendment rights.
The letter stems from an incident in December of last year. Florida's Cambridge Christian School was set to compete against University Christian School in their state championship football game. They asked permission to give their pre-game prayer over the loudspeaker - just as they'd done since the 1970s.
When the FHSAA told them they weren't allowed to pray before the Class 2A championship game, the tradition was broken to the disappointment of students with both schools.
The FHSAA told them if they prayed over the loudspeaker, it would be viewed as the "unlawful government endorsement of religion."
However, according to CCS Head of School Time Euler the pregame prayer was not about the government endorsement of religion, but about raising "godly young men that can make a difference in the world."
"We were really excited to play in the championship game," Jacon Enns, CCS football team kicker, said. "But then we showed up and they wouldn't let us pray. It's been our tradition ever since I've been on the team, and our tradition was ruined. It made me wonder, 'Is it wrong to pray?'"
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry went on Twitter calling the pregame prayer ban "absurd" and "ridiculous that 2 private Christian schools were denied the right to pray before the game."
The Liberty Institute, a legal organization dedicated to defending American religious liberty, argued that no one hearing the prayer would reasonably conclude that the government was endorsing religion.
Liberty Institute attorneys also contend that the FHSAA's prayer ban constituted "unlawful viewpoint discrimination against the private religious speech of CCS."
The attorneys went on to distinguish the government endorsement of religious speech, and the private endorsement of religious speech, saying the prayer was "CCS's private speech."
Liberty Institute Senior Counsel Jeremy Dys said that the FHSSA is "on the wrong side of the law."
"By banning prayer, the FHSAA sent a message to these kids that prayer is wrong and something you should be ashamed of…We are committed to restoring the rights of these students - and all students across the State of Florida - to pray without government censorship," he concluded.
The Liberty Institute has given the FHSAA a month to reply and issue an apology. If it does not, they will pursue action in court.