JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Next time you attend a Florida high school football game or basketball game, alongside the national anthem and other pregame traditions, you may also hear a prayer.
It’s the result of a new state law that took effect last weekend.
It comes eight years after Jacksonville’s University Christian and Tampa’s Cambridge Christian School were denied the ability to say a prayer over the loudspeaker ahead of their championship game.
At the bill signing in mid-May, Governor Ron DeSantis argued the new law restores that right.
“You have a right to free expression of religion. If the government is denying your right to say a prayer before the game, they are infringing your speech,” said DeSantis.
The law requires schools participating in high school sporting events to be allowed two minutes for opening remarks before the start of a game.
The opening remarks cannot be derogatory, rude, or threatening and they don’t necessarily have to be religious in nature.
However, opponents like State Representative Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando), see the law as an attempt to erode the separation of church and state.
“The notion that there would be prescheduled prayers that will likely be Christian in nature is an erosion of that separation and it ignores the Jewish students or the Muslim students or the students who, maybe they don’t have any religion that they practice at home,” said Eskamani.
Attorney Jesse Panuccio represents Cambridge Christian, which sued the Florida High School Athletic Association after the 2015 incident.
While he argued the new law is a step in the right direction, he said he intends to continue pursuing the case.
Panuccio said he fears the athletic association could still maintain its prohibition on pre-game prayer because its arguments in the case have centered around federal constitutional law, which would theoretically supersede state statute.
“You know this is important not just for these schools, but for the whole State of Florida and the country. Everybody has rights under the First Amendment, and they should be able to exercise them,” said Panuccio.
[SIGN UP: Action News Jax Daily Headlines Newsletter]