The First Amendment is a brilliant, but pesky, gift from the Founding Fathers. Basically it says citizens of this great nation can say what they want, worship God as they want, and print all kinds of stuff in the newspaper. The government can’t stop them.
We had a discussion on that very subject the other night in a class I lead at the United Methodist church where I am a long-time member. I’ll get into that in a bit.
For now, though, consider an action by Tampa’s Cambridge Christian School that is all about the First Amendment — but maybe not in the way school officials would like.
Disclaimer: I know a lot of people who either attend or have attended that school. Each one is a spectacular example of a caring, loving human being.
Cambridge also has a fine football program, and last December the team advanced to the state championship game in Orlando against a Christian high school from Jacksonville. Officials from both schools asked the Florida High School Athletic Association if they could lead a pre-kickoff prayer over the stadium loudspeaker.
The FHSAA said no, and now Cambridge has filed a federal lawsuit alleging its First Amendment rights were violated. Bear in mind, there is no prohibition against individual or group prayer in that public facility. I am sure there was a lot of it going on in the locker rooms, in the stands, and on the field.
When it came to the loudspeaker, though, the FSHAA followed state guidelines. The prayer, in theory, might have been heard by Jews, Muslims, Hindus and, yes, atheists. Since their taxes helped pay for the stadium, the schools couldn’t use the stadium public address system.
Legally, that would amount to the government favoring one religion over others. The first words out of the Founding Fathers’ collective mouth was that Congress can’t establish a national religion or keep people from the free exercise of their chosen faith.
That means everyone, even those following a faith that might curl your toenails. The First Amendment that Cambridge is embracing now could also be used by the groups demanding the same freedom of expression and platform to make their case.
Imagine a scene the next time two Christian high schools play for the state title in a publicly owned facility. They want to pray over the loudspeaker.
And right after they are done asking for Divine protection and blessings, a group of Satanists demand the microphone and equal time to present a counter-argument.
Ridiculous example, right?
Back in the classroom at my church, we have been holding discussions about the ramifications for Christians as they make their way through life in America with all sorts of people who don’t believe the same things they do. We actually talked about the Cambridge situation.
We talked about Nativity scenes in Tallahassee on government grounds at Christmas time. The First Amendment protecting that right also requires that atheists and satanic groups can express themselves as well. That’s just what happened. Satanists put up a display and many Christians were repulsed, and I totally get that. I also get that the First Amendment says you can’t have it both ways.
Rather than argue and file lawsuits, one of the class members noted a better approach would have been for the Christian group to set up shop right next to the Satanists. Let the light drown out the darkness, so to speak.
The good people at Cambridge Christian have chosen another path and have demanded their day in court. So be it. And even though I don’t think they have a prayer of winning, they should be wary about what they wish for.
Contact Joe Henderson at [email protected]