Florida Christian High School Prohibited from Praying Before Championship Game
Cambridge Christian School students praying at high school football game, per their tradition
(Photo credit: Beth Dare Photography, courtesy of Liberty Institute)
At Issue: The Religious Freedom to Pray in Public without Government Censorship
Case Status: Ongoing
Liberty Institute represents Cambridge Christian School (CCS) against the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA). School officials asked the association for permission to offer a pre-kickoff prayer over the loud speaker of the Citrus Bowl before the state high school football championship game. The FHSAA forbade the school from praying. They argued that somehow this private prayer could be viewed as an endorsement of religion since the students would be praying on government property. Liberty Institute sent a demand letter to FHSAA on January 26, claiming that the prayer was constitutionally protected private religious speech and that FHSAA violated the religious liberty of the students and administrators of Cambridge Christian School.
Meet Cambridge Christian School
For over 50 years, Cambridge Christian School (CCS), has educated and equipped students in Tampa, Florida. Their faith-based mission is clear:
To glorify God in all that we do; to demonstrate excellence at every level of academic, athletic and artistic involvement; to develop strength of character; and to serve the local and global community.
Tim Euler, the Head of School of CCS, said, “In the football program, we are working to raise godly young men that can make a difference in the world. Prayer is a big part of that. It’s central to who we are as a school and a team.”
One way the school administrators teach students to “glorify God” is through prayer—including at their sporting events. Since the inception of the football program, the school has had a tradition of praying over the loudspeaker before football games. Before kick-off, players, coaches, and fans will pause as a student, parent, or faculty member offers a short prayer.
FHSAA Denies Schools’ Request for Pre-Game Prayer
In the fall of 2015, the CCS Lancers won their way to the state football championship for the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) 2A division. The game was scheduled for Friday, December 4, 2015 at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida, where the Landers would face off against University Christian School.
Since both of the Christian schools had a tradition of pre-game prayer, CCS asked for permission to offer a prayer over the loudspeaker before kick-off at the championship game. The FHSAA denied the request, forbidding the schools from praying. The association argued that somehow this private prayer could be viewed as an endorsement of religion since the Christian schools would be praying on government property.
The football players, coaches and fans were devastated by the FHSAA’s decision. Jacob Enns said, “We were really excited to play in the championship game. It’s been our tradition to pray ever since I’ve been on the team. But then they said we couldn’t pray and our tradition was ruined. It was so disappointing.”
Liberty Institute Legal Action
On January 26, 2015, Liberty Institute attorneys sent a demand letter to FHSAA behalf of Cambridge Christian School, arguing that the FHSAA violated CCS’s rights as a religious institution.
“By banning their customary pre-game prayer, the FHSAA prohibited the students’ and teachers’ free exercise of religion,” said Hiram Sasser, Deptucy Chief Counsel for Liberty Institute. “That is a violation of the First Amendment.”
Liberty Institute’s letter explains that, if uncontested, FHSAA’s demands would severely limit the religious liberty of the thousands of students, teachers, and administrators of Florida’s religious school.
“By banning prayer, the FHSAA sent a message to these students that prayer is wrong and something you should be ashamed of. That is dangerous and unconstitutional,” said Sasser.
“If the government can stop Christian students from praying at the Citrus Bowl, what’s to stop them for banning students from praying at the flag pole?” Sasser asked. “We are committed to restoring the rights of these students—and all student in the State of Florida—to pray without government censorship.”
Photos to Download - Beth Dare Photography, courtesy of Liberty Institute
Cambridge Christian School Photo - 1
Cambridge Christian School Photo - 2
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Videos - Polyphonic Image, courtesy of Liberty Institute
Promotional Video of Cambridge Christian School
Cambridge Christian State Championship Teaser
Please read and forward Liberty Institute’s online Religious Liberty Protection Kit for Students and Teachers to know the rights of people of faith in public schools.
Dear Cambridge Christian School,
I was troubled to learn of the actions of the Florida High School Athletic Association against your school, including the denial of your request to pray over the loudspeaker before your football team’s state championship game.
I support the right of all Americans to be able to exercise their religious beliefs freely—including the right to pray in public.
Thank you for your commitment to your convictions in the education and athletic training of your students! Our nation needs more bold influencers like CCS staff, students, and parents to change and shape our communities.
Continue to stand strong for your beliefs and your freedom! You have my support as this legal matter progresses.