The Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) has a simple rule when it comes to reciting Christian prayers over the loudspeakers before football games: Don’t do it. It’s a fair policy considering it echoes what the U.S. Supreme Court said more than 16 years ago.
Last December, two private Christian schools made it all the way to the championship game in the state’s class 2A football playoffs. That’s when Cambridge Christian’s head of school Tim Euler asked state officials if he could say a prayer over the loudspeaker. The other school was okay with this, too. But that didn’t matter to FHSAA’s director:
FHSAA executive director Roger Dearing responded that because the Citrus Bowl is a public facility, the organization could not allow a prayer over the loudspeaker. The state championship game was also televised.
Makes perfect sense. A state-sponsored game means you have to follow state law. Both teams were allowed to pray before and after the game and during halftime. Hell, they could pull a Tebow and pray during the game if they wanted to. And because they were private schools, even the coaches could legally join in.
But not over the loudspeakers.
At the time, lawyers from First Liberty, a Christian legal defense group, threatened to sue:
[Attorney Jeremy] Dys demanded a letter of apology from the FHSAA within 30 days. If that does not happen, he said, he is prepared to fight the issue in federal court.
“Either apologize now or in front of a judge,” Dys said.
There’s nothing to apologize for, though. The state didn’t do anything wrong. They didn’t block kids from praying. They merely said a public loudspeaker in a public facility couldn’t be used to broadcast prayer during a state event.
First Liberty still hasn’t gotten that message, though, because yesterday, they filed a federal lawsuit against the state organization:
First Liberty filed the lawsuit along with lawyers from the firm of Greenberg Traurig. On Tuesday, attorneys held a news conference with Tim Euler, head of school for Cambridge Christian.
“I believe in our Constitution,” Euler said. “I believe in our government. I believe that in time of need, we pray. And to say a prayer of thanksgiving prior to an athletic event should not be any different than Congress opening up their meetings in prayer.“
It’s an awful analogy, in part because school events have a captive student audience. Congressional prayers also, at least in theory, can be delivered by people of any faith or no faith. What Euler is asking for is the ability to use public facilities at a public event to promote his faith.
The teams both prayed on the field, according to the complaint, but spectators and fans couldn’t hear or participate.
“Thus, by denying access to the loudspeaker,” the suit states, “the FHSAA denied the students, parents and fans in attendance the right to participate in the players’ prayer or to otherwise come together in prayer as one Christian community.”
As I said earlier, the Supreme Court has already litigated this. It’s hard to see how this lawsuit will be successful.
“The only reason the FHSAA said no is because it was religious speech,” Dys said. “You cannot banish religious speech to the broom closets. The lesson that the FHSAA is teaching every student athlete is somehow that prayer is wrong. That’s incorrect and it needs to end.“
That’s a lot of bullshit in a couple of sentences. The FHSAA isn’t selectively banning religious speech. The students also can’t use the loudspeakers to tell the crowd to “Vote for Donald Trump.” The loudspeakers are to be used for the game, plain and simple.
And the FHSAA is absolutely not saying anything about prayer. Students are welcome to pray before, during, and after the game. Hell, that’s exactly what they did in December without interference from the FHSAA.
The problem is that the Christians aren’t satisfied with that. They seem to think prayers only count if they’re done as publicly and loudly as possible.
Just like the Bible says.