Federal Appeals Court Rules Ban on Pre-Game Prayer Violates Free Speech

American football player waiting to join the game.
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A federal court has partially reversed a lower court’s decision to prohibit prayers being broadcast on loudspeakers ahead of Christian schools’ sporting events, ruling that the ban violated free speech and free exercise rights.

The Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) rule prohibited prayer at the Citrus Bowl prior to a state championship game between two Christian schools. 

In Wednesday’s decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals Eleventh Circuit ruled that Cambridge Christian School’s argument has merit and litigation could continue, a press release from the First Liberty Institute, which is representing the school, said.

“No one should be shocked that two Christian schools would want to start their game with a prayer over the loudspeaker before kickoff, Jeremy Dys, special counsel for litigation and communication for First Liberty told Breitbart News. “The FHSAA’s categorical ban on prayer is the type of hostility toward religion the First Amendment forbids.”

Breitbart News asked Dys why prayer is considered a special category of speech not protected by the First Amendment?

“It is not,” Dys said. “The only difference here is that the FHSAA preferred secular speech over religious speech.”

“That, the court determined, may violate the Constitution,” Dys said.

First Liberty provided the background on the case:

In 2015, the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) forbade First Liberty Institute client Cambridge Christian School (CCS) from praying over the loudspeaker at the Citrus Bowl ahead of the state championship football game. The FHSAA suggested that because the stadium was city-owned and the FHSAA a state agency, it would violate the Constitution to allow two private Christian schools to pray over a state-owned microphone for less than a minute.

In February 2017, a federal district judge sided with the FHSAA. First Liberty Institute appealed to the Eleventh Circuit, arguing that 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.

“We are grateful to have won this appeal and look forward to presenting our case on behalf of Cambridge Christian School to the district court,” Dys said. “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.”

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