Florida schools barred from public prayer before 2A state title game

ORLANDO — Two Christian high schools were told members of their football teams, their fans, and coaches were not allowed to pray together before Friday’s 2A state championship game at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando.

The decision was made Thursday in an email from the head of the Florida State High School Athletic Association, Dr. Roger Dearing. Dearing took less than four hours to review the issue.

Cambridge Christian School in Tampa faced University Christian from Jacksonville and they thought since both teams were private Christian schools, that a prayer over the loud speakers would be appropriate to start the game. The staff at University Christian agreed.

However, Dearing said because the game is being played at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, which is predominately paid for with tax dollars, and because the athletic association is a state agency, prayer is not allowed.
“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,” Dearing wrote. “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.”
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The head of Cambridge Christian, Tim Euler, says the ruling makes no sense.

“Here’s the problem,” Euler said, “Florida State Legislature is opened up with prayer in a building that is paid by tax dollars. What is the difference?”

He adds, “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 his reasoning is flawed at the core of it.”

There was no time for the ruling to be appealed or further discussions so the game went off Friday without a pregame prayer. University Christian won the game 61-16 for its eighth state title, tied for second in state history behind the 11 won by Bolles.

USA TODAY High School Sports contributed to this report

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