judge weighs pre-game prayer trial involving Cambridge Christian School in Tampa | Florida News | Tampa
A federal judge heard arguments Tuesday in a more than five-year legal battle over whether the Florida High School Athletic Association violated a Christian school’s free speech rights by preventing a prayer from being read from above -speaker before a football match.
The case arises out of the 2015 Class 2A State Championship game at Camping World Stadium in Orlando between the Cambridge Christian School of Tampa, which filed the complaint, and the Jacksonville University Christian School .
In 2017, U.S. District Judge Charlene Edwards Honeywell dismissed the case, dismissing Cambridge Christian’s arguments that blocking the prayer was a violation of the First Amendment. But in 2019, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Honeywell’s ruling, sending the case back to Tampa District Court.
Jesse Panuccio, an attorney representing Cambridge Christian, argued in Tuesday’s hearing before Honeywell that the FHSAA had “discriminated in point of view and arbitrariness” in its decision to prevent the reading of the prayer on the stadium sound system.
Part of the Christian school‘s argument is that the FHSAA allowed a pre-game speakerphone prayer at a 2012 state championship at the same stadium.
“There are two data points, two times schools have asked to pray in the Class 2A championship game. And in 50 percent of them, the FHSAA approved the request. It’s an arbitrary application, ”said Panuccio.
The FHSAA, however, said in a summary judgment motion that it was a “state actor” who hosted the championship game in a public stadium and that the loudspeaker speeches at such events are tightly controlled.
The sports association argued that the loudspeaker speech at its events is considered “government speech” and that the messages or prayers – or “private speech” – could be construed as endorsed by the FHSAA.
In a summary judgment motion filed in April, attorneys for Cambridge Christian argued that the sports association had no written policy prohibiting the reading of prayers over loudspeakers. Cambridge Christian also claimed that the FHSAA had previously written posts of a religious nature on its various social media accounts.
In addition, Panuccio pointed out that the FHSAA allows “secular invocations” as moments of silence.
“An example is this, it was following the terrible tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, after which the association rightly asked the crowd to quote: ‘Join in mourning ”, with a moment of 20 to 30 seconds of silent reflection and providing, let us quote,“ positive thoughts ”. The FHSAA did this at every championship game in all sports through the winter and spring of 2018, ”said Panuccio.
Judith Mercier, a lawyer representing the sports association, said the tribute to the lives lost in the Parkland School shooting was “the FHSAA speech” and was different from allowing religious speeches by individuals or d ‘schools.
“The First Amendment doesn’t stop the FHSAA from asking people to somehow acknowledge the horrific tragedy in one of their member schools where a number of people have died. The FHSAA is not muzzled to be able to say something like that or prevented from saying it unless they open it up to other people to say whatever they want, ”Mercier said.
Honeywell has not given a specific date by which it will place an order. She said a backlog of criminal cases delayed by COVID-19 would delay the release of her order by at least 30 days.