ORLANDO, Fla. — Two Christian schools that faced off on Friday at the Citrus Bowl Stadium in Florida were barred from praying over the public address system because the event was held at a facility paid for by public tax money.
Officials with Cambridge Christian School of Tampa and University Christian School of Jacksonville had sent letters to the Florida High School Athletics Association (FHSAA) requesting permission to pray over the loudspeaker, but were denied.
“We’ve played 13 football games this year,” Tim Euler, principal of Cambridge Christian School, told Bay News9 . “We’ve prayed before every one of them.”
But the FHSAA said that it could not grant the schools permission to use the public address system to ask God’s blessing because the Citrus Bowl Stadium is public property.
“The facility is a public facility, predominantly paid for with public tax dollars, makes the facility ‘off limits’ under federal guidelines and precedent court cases,” Executive Director Dr. Roger Dearing explained to the outlet. “In Florida Statutes, the FHSAA (host and coordinator of the event) is legally a ‘State Actor,’ we cannot legally permit or grant permission for such an activity.”
FHSAA spokesperson Corey Sobers also told reporters that while the Christian schools could not use the loudspeaker, they were free to pray in other capacities.
“We did not allow them to have the prayer over the PA system, however, both schools are free to pray on their own, [and] the fans can pray,” he explained to WESH-TV. “They want to honor their faith. We’re very sympathetic of that, but we need to make sure from a legal standpoint that we’re not overstepping our bounds.”
Euler said that he doesn’t agree with the Athletic Association’s reasoning, but did not fight the denial.
“The state legislature opens up every one of their sessions in prayer and that facility is paid for with tax dollars,” he stated. “If they can pray there, we can pray here, and I want them to be able to pray there and I want us to be able to pray here. So I think [the association’s] reasoning is flawed at the core of it.”
Instead of using the public address system, both teams gathered together and recited the Lord’s Prayer out loud on the field, while fans prayed silently in the stands.
Public reaction has been mixed.
“Religion is for an appropriately designated place of worship, not public places. Not at public schools, places of employment, restaurants, malls, stadiums, train stations, etc.,” one commenter wrote.
“This country was founded on Christian principles by our forefathers and we should be able to pray without being discriminated against,” another stated. “These were two Christian schools. Separation of Church and State was for the State to stay out of the Church, not the other way around.”
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry called the ban “cockamamie.”