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Christian school, Florida athletic association to explore mediation in prayer dispute

Lawsuit remanded back to District Court might first go to mediation

The two sides in a 2016 lawsuit over school prayer will next consider mediation to decide whether religious schools can broadcast prayers over loudspeaker systems during football games or other athletic contests.

The case arose after the Florida High School Athletic Association refused to allow prayers to be broadcast over a loudspeaker system during the Division 2A state championship football game in Orlando in December 2015.  The two schools in the game both were Christian schools and both had asked permission to broadcast pre-game prayers in the Citrus Bowl, as each typically did before their home games.

The FHSAA, which is statutorily recognized by the state of Florida as the official governing body for interscholastic athletics in Florida, said no.

One of the schools in that game, Cambridge Christian School of Tampa, sued the association, in September 2016, seeking to overturn the rule. Among other things, the school alleged that its right to freedom of speech was violated, as well as its right to free exercise of religion.

The school lost in U.S. District Court in 2017. There, the court ruled that speech over the loudspeaker was government speech, and therefore that the school enjoyed no expressive freedoms in that medium; and that the school’s free exercise of religion  rights had not been implicated when the FHSAA denied access to the loudspeaker because the teams were still allowed to pray together at the center of the football field, albeit without the aid of a loudspeaker system.

But last month the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned parts of that lower court ruling and remanded the case back for a new trial. In a unanimous opinion, the court ruled that “the district court was too quick to dismiss all of Cambridge Christian’s claims out of hand.”

In a telephone hearing on Monday, U.S. District Judge Charlene Edwards Honeywell of the Middle District of Florida, who ruled in the case in 2017, began setting up for the new District Court trial by giving the two sides 30 days to meet and provide case management reports. That meeting and those status reports are to include exploration of mediation of the case, and a deadline for mediation.

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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