House backs bill for prayers before games


Amid a long-running legal battle, the Florida House appears poised to pass a bill that would allow high-school speakers to offer remarks, including prayers, over public-address systems before athletic championship games.

The House on Tuesday took up the bill (HB 1027), sponsored by Rep. Webster Barnaby, R-Deltona, and positioned it for a vote. The measure comes during a lawsuit over a decision by the Florida High School Athletic Association in 2016 to block Cambridge Christian School of Tampa from offering a prayer over the public-address system before a football championship game at Orlando’s Camping World Stadium.

The school filed a federal lawsuit that contends the decision violated its First Amendment rights. The athletic association has argued that allowing a prayer over the loudspeaker would have been viewed as “government speech.”

Under questions from Democrats, Barnaby said the bill would leave decisions up to schools about speakers and vetting remarks. “There’s nothing in this bill that says this is a two-minute prayer,” he said.

But Rep. Christopher Benjamin, D-Miami Gardens, asked how a prayer would not be considered “government-sponsored.”

A Senate version of the bill (SB 880) has not moved forward in committees. – The News Service of Florida


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