A Tampa Christian school is appealing a federal judge’s ruling that backed a decision by the Florida High School Athletic Association to prevent a prayer over a stadium loudspeaker before a 2015 state championship football game.
Cambridge Christian School filed a notice of appeal Thursday at the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. As is common, the notice did not detail arguments the school will make at the Atlanta-based appeals court.
U.S. District Judge Charlene Edwards Honeywell issued a 38-page ruling last month that said the Florida High School Athletic Association is a “state actor” and did not violate First Amendment rights when it refused to allow Cambridge Christian and Jacksonville’s University Christian School to offer a prayer over the public-address system before the game at Camping World Stadium in Orlando.
“The issue before the court is whether the First Amendment required the FHSAA (the association) to grant the teams unrestricted access to the PA system to deliver the prayer over the loudspeaker during the pregame,” Honeywell wrote. “Thus, the questions to be answered are whether the inability to pray over the loudspeaker during the pregame of the state championship final football game violated CCS’s (Cambridge Christian’s) First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and free exercise of religion. … (The) court concludes that the First Amendment does not apply because the speech at issue is government speech, but even if some portion of the speech is considered private speech, the court finds no constitutional violation occurred.”
During a December hearing, Jesse Panuccio, an attorney representing Cambridge Christian, argued that the FHSAA displayed “viewpoint discrimination and arbitrariness” in its decision to block the prayer. Part of the school’s argument was that the FHSAA allowed a pre-game prayer over the loudspeaker at a 2012 state championship at the same stadium.
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