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New proposal could allow prayers before Florida high school athletic events

As a federal appeals court prepares to hear arguments in a long-running dispute about the issue, a state senator filed a proposal Friday that could allow high schools to offer prayers over stadium loudspeakers before championship athletic events.

Sen. Jay Collins, R-Tampa, included the proposal in a broader bill (SB 308) dealing with high-school sports. It would allow high schools participating in championship events to have up to two minutes to make remarks over loudspeakers and says the Florida High School Athletic Association could not “control, monitor, or review the content of the opening remarks and may not control the school’s choice of speaker.”

While the bill does not specifically mention prayers, it comes as the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear arguments in May in a battle between the athletic association and Tampa’s Cambridge Christian School.

The school filed a lawsuit after it was blocked from offering a prayer over the loudspeaker at Orlando’s Camping World Stadium before a 2015 high-school football championship game. It contends that the athletic association violated its speech rights.

But U.S. District Judge Charlene Edwards Honeywell backed the athletic association’s decision, ruling that it is a “state actor” and did not violate First Amendment rights in denying the prayer.

The school then took the case to the Atlanta-based appeals court. Collins filed the bill for consideration during the legislative session that will start March 7.

News Service of Florida