(CNSNews.com) -- A federal court of appeals reversed a rule enforced by the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) that prohibited two private Christian schools from saying a prayer over the loudspeakers before a football game at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando.
The two schools, Cambridge Christian School and University Christian School, were set to play a championship game at the stadium in 2015. When the two faith-based schools asked if they could offer a prayer over the loudspeakers prior to the game, Roger Dearing, the executive director of the FHSAA, denied the request.
Subsequently, the two schools filed a lawsuit against the FHSAA in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida in 2016. The school argued that the FHSAA was violating its First Amendment rights.
The FHSAA argued in its defense that “all speech over the loudspeaker was government speech,” and thus could not be religious.
In 2017, the judge reviewing the case sided with the FHSAA. As a result, Cambridge Christian School decided to appeal the decision.
On Nov. 13, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled that “the district court was not appropriately generous in its reading of Cambridge Christian’s pleading.”
“As we see it, the district court was too quick to dismiss all of Cambridge Christian’s claims out of hand,” said the unanimous decision by the three judges on the court. “Taking the complaint in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, as we must at this stage in the proceedings, the schools’ claims for relief under the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses have been adequately and plausibly pled.”
“[W]e find it plausible that the multitude of messages delivered over the loudspeaker
should be viewed as private, not government, speech,” said the court. “And while we agree with the district court that the loudspeaker was a nonpublic forum, we conclude that Cambridge Christian has plausibly alleged that it was arbitrarily and haphazardly denied access to the forum in violation of the First Amendment. “
“Likewise, we cannot say, again drawing all inferences in favor of the appellant, that in denying
communal prayer over the loudspeaker, the FHSAA did not infringe on Cambridge
Christian’s free exercise of religion,” said the court. “We, therefore, reverse the district court’s decision in part.”
“The lower court was too quick to pull the trigger insofar as it dismissed the appellants’ free speech and free exercise claims,” said Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus in the ruling. “We cannot say whether these claims will ultimately succeed, but Cambridge Christian has plausibly alleged enough to enter the courtroom and be heard.”
“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,” said Jeremy Dys, special counsel for Litigation and Communications at First Liberty, in a press release.
“The First Amendment protects the rights of students and teachers at a private Christian school to pray before a football game,” Dys said, “especially when both teams are Christian and have a tradition of prayer before games.”