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New Florida law allows 4 minutes of loudspeaker prayers at high school playoff games
The new law comes in response to a prayer controversy that arose at a 2015 state football championship game
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A new bill signed into law by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis last week is, on the surface, meant to let students at charter and online schools participate in extracurricular activities at public or private schools.
But tucked away in the bill is a section that will allow high school athletes to spend four minutes before playoff games telling Muslims, Jews, and atheists they’re going to burn in Hell for all eternity.
That’s not an exaggeration. There will now be an opening for pre-game prayers over the loudspeakers at high-profile high school athletic events.
House Bill 225 says that any high school athletic association that includes public schools—like, say, the Florida High School Athletic Association which “regulate[s] all interscholastic activities” across the state—must allow participating schools in a state series (i.e. playoff games) to “make brief opening remarks, if requested by the school, using the public address system at the event.” Those remarks cannot be longer than two minutes at a time. And the governor’s office has explicitly said those remarks can include “public prayer.”
In practice, that means schools can request the use of the public address system before a playoff game, where representatives from both teams can spend two minutes each telling the crowd to accept Jesus, implying that not doing so will lead to damnation.
The law takes a hands-off approach to what’s said over the PA system, the only caveat being that the comments cannot be “derogatory, rude, or threatening.” That means schools can decide for themselves who speaks and therefore what gets said. That gives an upper hand to any schools with a Christian majority who want to use their platform to proselytize.
You know non-Christians aren’t going to get equal opportunities here. Schools can always find a “neutral” way to promote the faith of their choice, like by way of a team vote or coach selection.
There’s nothing in this bill prohibiting a team from publicly praying for God to give them an edge over the other side. There’s nothing prohibiting a speaker from condemning LGBTQ people under the guise of avoiding “sin.” There’s nothing prohibiting a school from urging the crowd to give themselves over to Christ.
While it would technically be legal for a Muslim student to lead the crowd in a prayer to Allah, that’s almost certainly never going to happen.
This bill is nothing more than a Trojan Horse to allow public demonstrations of prayer at athletic competitions… even though student athletes and coaches are already permitted to pray on their own. (And, after the Joe Kennedy debacle, in view of everyone else.)
This isn’t about prayer because prayer isn’t illegal.
This is about making a show of Christian dominance using public school athletes and public stadiums and public equipment as the vessels.
Why are Florida Republicans doing this? (I mean, besides the obvious.)
It’s all because of a controversy that began in 2015. That December, two private Christian schools (Cambridge Christian School and University Christian School) made it all the way to the championship game in the state’s class 2A football playoffs. Before the game, one of the CCS administrators wanted to say prayers over the public address system. But the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA), which oversees all games, correctly said no. This was a state-run event. It was televised. It was at a public facility. It would be illegal for Christians to hijack the loudspeaker system for religious purposes.
Obviously no one was stopping the Christian players and coaches from praying on their own, but as we all know by now, conservative Christians don’t believe prayer counts unless they can push it upon everyone else.
The Christians eventually filed a lawsuit over this, and a judge tossed it out in 2017—because, again, what they wanted was illegal. In 2019, an appeals court reversed part of that ruling, saying there was merit to the case and it needed to be judged on those merits rather than be tossed out altogether. In March of 2022, a district court again ruled against the Christian school because what they wanted was still illegal. That was appealed… and we’re still waiting on a ruling.
It’s irrelevant that the law requires an announcement saying all remarks are “not endorsed by and does not reflect the views and or opinions of” the athletic association because disclaimers don’t undo the damage.
And Christians are already eager to pounce on the opportunity:
“The next time Cambridge Christian returns to play for a state championship—and we will return—we will pray over the loudspeaker before kickoff,” [Cambridge Christian School head Sean] Minks said.
It’s not surprise that DeSantis signed the bill into law during a ceremony at Cambridge Christian School last week.
In case you’re wondering if the FHSAA will put up a fight against this new law, it’s not likely. The same law DeSantis just signed also says the board of the FHSAA will no longer consist of 16 representatives most of whom are elected to their seats; instead, the board will now have 12 members, 8 of whom are appointed by the governor. So DeSantis will be allowed to replace the current board with his cronies.
Furthermore, the law requires any changes to the FHSAA bylaws to be approved by the state’s Board of Education… which DeSantis also has control over. The Board of Education also gets to approve the FHSAA’s executive director and any budget approved by the board.
That’s not to say there’s no legal path forward. The Supreme Court ruled in 2000, in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, that prayers delivered “on school property, at school-sponsored events, over the school's public address system” violated the Establishment Clause.
Do precedents matter anymore to this Supreme Court? Of course not. Certainly not when it comes to church/state issues. The Santa Fe ruling said that the district policy allowing those prayers failed the Lemon Test, a standard which the Court now says does not apply.
Still, there’s an opening for a legal fight. I’ve reached out to Americans United to see if they plan to pursue a legal challenge.
The Florida law goes into effect on July 1.
(Portions of this article were published earlier)
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