Arrested for praying in public: Guilty by association
Santa Rosa County, Florida – Two school employees were arrested for saying a Christian prayer in public at a luncheon – not in the school, not during school duty. They are now up on criminal charges. How did this happen?
Last year, the ACLU brought a lawsuit against the Santa Rosa County School District, claiming that some of the administrators and teachers were “endorsing” religion. The ACLU submitted a Consent Order to the School District. This Consent Order bans all school employees from engaging in public prayer or other religious activities - even outside of school hours and off-property…a completely illegal order according to the real First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
But instead of engaging in battle with the ACLU, the School District chose to accept the ACLU’s Order. And without any legal argument, the Pensacola Federal District Court allowed the Consent Order which unconstitutionally infringes on the rights of both school employees and their students.
That wasn’t enough for the ACLU. They began going against individual employees.
Pace High School Principal Frank Lay and Athletic Director Robert Freeman prayed at a luncheon which included former booster club members and others who had helped with a school project. The ACLU complained that Lay and Freeman offered a prayer to bless the meal (served to consenting adults at the appreciation luncheon). Based solely on the ACLU’s allegations, U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers initiated criminal contempt proceedings against Lay and Freeman to the United States Attorney’s office for prosecution. Unbelievably, the U.S. Attorney accepted the assignment and is proceeding with prosecution.
If convicted, Lay and Freeman are subject to fines and possible imprisonment. Attorneys from Liberty Counsel are acting on behalf of Freeman and Lay. On the Liberty Counsel website, Mathew D. Staver, Founder of Liberty Counsel and Dean of Liberty University School of Law, commented: “It is a sad day in America when school officials are criminally prosecuted for a prayer over a meal…” “…It is outrageous and an offense to the First Amendment to punish a school official for a simple prayer.”
In a related Liberty Counsel case… Michelle Winkler, a clerical assistant at the same School District, attended an off-campus event, after school hours and sponsored by private funding, to honor non-teaching employees of the schools. She asked her husband, not a school employee, to read a prayer she wrote for the honorees. The ACLU brought a civil contempt case against Winkler (do they have spies everywhere?). However, in this case Judge Rodgers ruled against the ACLU, concluding that for Winkler’s husband to pray at a voluntary gathering outside of school did not violate ACLU’s Consent Order.
Can Christians help in cases like this? Anyone concerned with the preservation of the First Amendment can voice their opinion in this case, but especially calling all residents of Santa Rosa County, FL., where the ACLU’s Consent Order should never have been accepted in the first place. Go to Liberty Counsel’s Press Release and read toward the bottom to see how they are asking for help.
Sheryl has been freelance writing since 1997 for both faith-based and general publications. Her editorials and articles have appeared in national newspapers and magazines as well as online. Her latest book is entitled "What Every Christian Should Know about the Jewish People." See all of Sheryl's posts here.