Pre-game remarks get house support

A proposal before the legislature would allow athletic programs in the FHSAA to make pre-game remarks.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

NSF staff report

Amid a long-running legal battle about a pre-game prayer, a House panel gave the go-ahead to a proposal that would require the Florida High School Athletic Association to allow schools to offer opening remarks over the public-address system before high-school championships.

Under the proposal (HB 1027) approved by the House Secondary Education & Career Development Subcommittee last Wednesday, the Florida High School Athletic Association and other associations would be required to adopt bylaws permitting the remarks. The FHSAA currently has a policy requiring announcers to maintain neutrality in scripted remarks before championship games, according to a staff analysis of the bill.

The measure would allow schools to give two-minute opening remarks. 

“The athletic association may not control, monitor, or review the content of the opening remarks and may not control the school’s choice of speaker,” the bill says. 

The proposal also would require an announcement to be made before the opening remarks that the comments do not reflect the views and opinions of the association. 

The legislation comes as the FHSAA and Cambridge Christian School of Tampa have been locked in a federal lawsuit stemming from a 2016 high-school football championship game. The association, which is the governing body of high school sports, denied a request by Cambridge Christian to use the public-address system at Orlando’s Camping World Stadium to offer a pre-game prayer. That prompted the school to file the lawsuit, arguing that its First Amendment rights had been violated. 

Rep. Christopher Benjamin, D-Miami Gardens, said last Wednesday that some prayers might make students uncomfortable.

“And now they have to sit through the prayer possibly of another faith. And then the school, i.e. the government, will say it wasn’t us,” Benjamin, a lawyer, argued. “I think we’re treading on a legal issue that will find itself challenged, if it’s passed.” 

But bill sponsor Webster Barnaby, R-Deltona, noted that prayers are said at the outset of the Legislature’s floor sessions. 

“If it’s good enough for us, as representatives, it ought to be good for our children,” he said. “Let’s not confuse or muddy things. No one’s been complaining about high school prayer. … We must use common sense.” 

The proposal, approved in a 13-4 vote, would need to clear the House Education & Employment Committee before it could go to the full House. A Senate version has not been heard in committees.


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