Thursday, November 14, 2019

11th Circuit: Christian School Can Proceed In Challenge To Pre-Game Loudspeaker Prayer Ban

In Cambridge Christian School, Inc. v. Florida High School Athletic Association, Inc., (11th Cir., Nov. 13, 2019), the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals held that a Christian school could move ahead with its complaint that its free speech and free exercise rights were infringed when it was denied permission to broadcast a joint prayer over the loudspeaker at the state championship high school football game. Both schools in the playoff were Christian schools. In its 70-page opinion, the court said in part:
As we see it, the district court was too quick to dismiss all of Cambridge Christian’s claims out of hand. Taking the complaint in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, as we must at this stage in the proceedings, the schools’ claims for relief under the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses have been adequately and plausibly pled. There are too many open factual questions for us to say with confidence that the allegations cannot be proven as a matter of law. The question of whether all speech over the microphone was government speech is a heavily fact-intensive one that looks at the history of the government’s use of the medium for communicative purposes, the implication of government endorsement of messages carried over that medium, and the degree of government control over those messages.... [B]ased on this limited record, we find it plausible that the multitude of messages delivered over the loudspeaker should be viewed as private, not government, speech. And while we agree with the district court that the loudspeaker was a nonpublic forum, we conclude that Cambridge Christian has plausibly alleged that it was arbitrarily and haphazardly denied access to the forum in violation of the First Amendment. Likewise, we cannot say, again drawing all inferences in favor of the appellant, that in denying scommunal prayer over the loudspeaker, the FHSAA did not infringe on Cambridge Christian’s free exercise of religion.
WCTV News reports on the decision.