Six weeks after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a praying football coach and clarified its stance on school prayer, a separate but related case came one step closer to the justices’ desks when a Christian school in Florida advanced its fight to pray over the loudspeaker at state championship games.
The new case, which is currently awaiting action from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, stems from a Florida High School Athletic Association policy that bars loudspeaker prayers in publicly owned stadiums even when a game involves two religious schools.
The association “claims that all speech over the loudspeaker is government speech” and that it therefore can’t convey a religious message, according to Cambridge Christian School’s appeal to the 11th Circuit.
That appeal was necessary after the district court ruled against the school in April, deciding that the association can prevent Christian schools from accessing the loudspeaker without violating their religious freedom rights.
The case “is not about whether two Christian schools may pray together at a football game,” the ruling said, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Instead, it’s about “whether the First Amendment required (the association) to grant the teams unrestricted access to the PA system.”
The ruling noted that the Florida High School Athletic Association did not prevent Cambridge Christian School and its opponent from praying on the field before and after the 2015 championship game.
The appeal, filed earlier this month, argues that the district court misapplied recent Supreme Court rulings involving the establishment clause.
“Rather than respect the First Amendment’s double protection for religious expression, the lower court would have us silence it. We hope the 11th Circuit will correct the lower court’s decision by reminding us all that the Constitution protects religious speech, even when it occurs on government property,” said Jeremy Dys, senior counsel for First Liberty Institute, in a statement.
First Liberty represents Cambridge Christian School in the ongoing case and also represented the praying football coach, Joe Kennedy, in front of the Supreme Court.
Although the Supreme Court did say this year that certain prayers on football fields are constitutionally protected, it has previously ruled that public schools should not broadcast prayers over the loudspeaker before games, even if the prayers are student-led.
“The court emphasized that the Constitution does not permit schools to force students to choose between being full participants in their school community and adhering to their conscience in matters of religion,” writes the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty in its summary of that previous Supreme Court case.
The 6-3 majority in the football coach case reaffirmed that old decision in this year’s ruling. Under the law, informal, voluntary prayers are different than formal ones that are impossible to ignore, the justices wrote.
In the aftermath of the ruling, many law and religion experts predicted that the decision would lead to more school prayer conflict, not less, and the Florida case seems to prove their point.
But others are still hoping that tension over school prayer will start being resolved outside of the courtroom.
“I hope there’s more reflection and humility about the life that Christians lead and how we can work together for the common good,” said Paul Putz, the assistant director of the Faith & Sports Institute at Baylor University’s theological seminary, to the Deseret News earlier this month.