A private Christian school is now crying foul after the Florida High School Athletic Association blocked its football team from offering a pre-game prayer over loudspeakers at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando last month.
Liberty Institute, the largest legal organization dedicated solely to defending and restoring religious liberty in the U.S., announced in a statement Tuesday that it sent a demand letter on behalf of Cambridge Christian School, a private Christian school in Tampa, Florida, over what the organization says is a violation of religious freedom. The organization is also threatening legal action if the FHSAA does not apologize.
"We require the FHSAA to issue a written apology to CCS for this gross violation along with written assurances that, in the future, the FHSAA will abide by the U.S. Constitution. If the FHSAA refuses to meet these simple demands by Feb. 25, our clients are prepared to seek redress in federal court, inclusive of our client's attorney's fees and costs," wrote the organization in the demand letter.
The letter contends that at the 2015 2A State Championship Football Game held on Dec. 4, 2015, where CCS faced University Christian School, CSS asked the FHSAA for permission to offer a pre-kickoff prayer over the loud speaker. The prayer is a tradition for both schools.
The FHSAA, however, denied the request, arguing that the private prayer could be viewed as an endorsement of religion since the Christian schools would be praying on government property.
"We were really excited to play in the championship game. But then we showed up and they wouldn't let us pray. It's been our tradition ever since I've been on the team, and our tradition was ruined. It made me wonder, is it wrong to pray?" asked Jacob Enns, the kicker for the CCS football team.
Liberty Institute contends in its release that no average person could watch two Christian football teams praying and interpret that as government endorsement of religion.
Attorneys for the organization argue that the FHSAA engaged in unlawful discrimination and violated the fundamental religious liberty rights of the students and administrators of CCS by refusing the school's request to pray.
"By banning prayer, the FHSAA sent a message to these kids that prayer is wrong and something you should be ashamed of. They are on the wrong side of the law. We are committed to restoring the rights of these students — and all students across the State of Florida — to pray without government censorship," said Jeremy Dys, senior counsel for Liberty Institute in the release.
CCS head of school, Tim Euler, noted: "In the football program, we are working to raise godly young men that can make a difference in the world. Prayer is a big part of that. It's central to who we are as a school and a team."