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Religious liberties under assault in Florida


A Pace High School principal and athletic director faces possible jail time for violating the terms of an out of court settlement of a lawsuit by the ACLU against the Santa Rosa County School District. The trial for Principal Frank Lay and Athletic Director Robert Freeman is set to begin in September. A community group is helping the men with legal expenses with a fund raising campaign. The ACLU brought a suit against the school district in August 2008, claiming that school district officials flagrantly violated students’ constitutional rights for several years. Part of the article explains the origins of the controversy:

The fight involving the ACLU, the school district and several devout Christian employees began last August when the ACLU sued Santa Rosa County Schools on behalf of two students who had complained privately to the group's Florida affiliate, claiming some teachers and administrators were allowing prayers at school events such as graduations, orchestrating separate religiously themed graduation services, and "proselytizing" students during class and after school.
In January, the Santa Rosa County School District settled out of court with the ACLU, agreeing to several things, including a provision to bar all school employees from promoting or sponsoring prayers during school-sponsored events; holding school events at church venues when a secular alternative was available; or promoting their religious beliefs or attempting to convert students in class or during school-sponsored events. 

The story goes on to report:

The criminal charges, which carry up to a $5,000 fine and a six-month jail term, originated with a Jan. 28 incident in which Mr. Lay, a deacon at a local Baptist church, asked Mr. Freeman to offer mealtime prayers at a lunch for school employees and booster-club members who had helped with a school field-house project.
The ACLU brought the matter to the attention of U.S. District Court Judge M. Casey Rodgers, who issued a contempt order for the two men.

The ACLU has been monitoring school meetings for possible violations of the settlement order. More troubling, though, is a clause in the settlement which prevented the senior class President and the student body President from even speaking to their fellow graduates during the graduation ceremony. President Mary Allen is known to her Pace High School community to be a Christian, and therefore she was denied her opportunity to speak because of what she might say. She was the first class president in 33 years who was not allowed to speak at graduation.   The student body President is a Christian as well.

What could Miss Allen have said that would have been so terrible for her classmates to hear? That she knows God loves her? That a relationship with God has changed her life in a positive way? That God’s hand has guided her and will continue to do so in the future? Apparently this kind of radical talk is being suppressed in Santa Rosa County before it gets out of hand. Would a similar prohibition be placed on a Muslim or a Hindu? Keep in mind that the ACLU, supposedly in existence to protect the civil liberties of people like Mary Allen and her classmate, forced an agreement in which singled them out and prevented them from sharing sincere beliefs expressly because they were Christian. It’s a shame that accomplished students' constitutional rights were squashed in a dispute that was originally aimed at school administrators.  

Below is a video showing how many of the students stood up for the rights of their classmates:

For more info: 

Washington Times article 

Values Voter News article


  • 2Wolves 5 years ago

    What part of "public school" and separation of state and church don't you comprehend.

    You want a non-secular education, go pay for it.

  • Floyd 5 years ago

    Teachers and administrators of public schools should not be proselytizing at all. It is the job of parents and their chosen ministers to teach children about their faith. I do not want state employees trying to convert my kids. If we allow this for the religions that we like, then we will have to allow it for the religions that we don't like too. It's safer to just leave religious indoctrination out of the public school classroom and trust parents to take care of that.

  • Doug, Columbia Evangelical Examiner 5 years ago

    My primary concern in the story is that STUDENTS had their constitutional rights suppressed by not allowing them to speak. The ACLU singled out Christian students and the school district caved. They did not even know for sure what the students would say at graduation, but either way their speech was denied because they MIGHT say something about their personal faith in God. That's not what our founders intended in the 1st Ammendment.

    From the ACLJ website:
    In Tinker vs. Des Moines, the Supreme Court held that "students [do not] shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate." This means that students have the right to express their religious beliefs during the school day. "When [a student] is in the cafeteria, or on the playing field, or on the campus during the authorized hours, he may express his opinions." If school officials refuse to allow you to pray on campus they are censoring your speech and denying your constitutional rights.

  • bjohnson 5 years ago

    I find it miss leading when you write the consent decree prevented the senior class president from speaking at her graduation. What the consent decree said was if the school policy was to review and approve the student’s speech then the school was responsible for what was said in the speech. I have to assume that the school had a policy of reviewing the speech and the school district made the decision they could not trust the christian student to follow the approved speech so she was not allowed to speak.

    The Tinker vs. Des Moines was a good ruling stating students have constitutional rights. In the last few years our chief justice John Roberts has voted time and again against constitutional challenge students have brought against their schools, writing in one opinion “we have held that the constitutional rights of students in public school are not automatically coextensive with the rights of adults in other settings“.

  • Mike O'Risal 5 years ago

    Yes, religious liberties ARE under assault in Florida. They're under assault by people like the principal and athletic director in this story. And yes, the ACLU *would* file suit if the prayer had been Hindu or Islamic, for that matter. Forcing people to participate in a religious ritual at an event payed for by the public is the assault on religious liberty, which includes the right to not be forced to take part in any religious ritual at all... which is what an opening prayer is, regardless of what religion it's based on. The principal and athletic director are in contempt of court. They broke the law. End of story; religious belief doesn't give anyone the right to a "get out of jail free" card.

  • Doug 5 years ago

    @bjohnson: I appreciate your comments, thanks. You mentioned that its possible that the student in question was not allowed to speak because they thought she would not follow the approved speech. That's one of my concerns. Restricting her to an "approved speech," if that happened, is an infringement on her rights. Furthermore, what is so awful that she could have said? If you don't agree with a position someone takes, you don't need to act on it. I hear many things I don't agree with. I don't agree with atheism, but I don't suppress those who want to talk about it.

  • Zel 5 years ago

    If that is the case, then would Pace high school have no Christmas break because it is a Catholic-based holiday?

  • susan VA 5 years ago

    IN RE TO: Yes, religious liberties ARE under assault in Florida....

    Are you serious?! This prayer did not even take place at a school function, or during school hours. It is my understanding that it was an "appreciation" meal for the volunteers (at which no students were present.) And I'm sure these two gentlemen did not twist anyones arm and make them pray. Just simply don't participate if you do not want to. And I'm not sure, but, I don't think the meal was paid for by the public...if you want to go money (as a tax payer) goes to alot of things that I don't agree with, or want to support!!
    Maybe to some it is just as offending to set down to eat with out asking the blessing.......what about their rights? Should they not get to pray and excersise their religious matter where they might be. They are not pushing their religion down any ones throat, or "MAKING" anyone participate that doesn't want to. Like I said before, don't pray if you don't want to.

  • LOL2Wolves 5 years ago

    Show me in the constitution where is says that. In simple terms, government stay out of Church affairs and this would include schools where Christianity should be taught also. We are under scrutiny but Islam has its place in schools.

  • tl 5 years ago

    It's sad to see that the Principal does not consider Honesty to be important Christian value. The principal (through his Lawyer) agreed to the consent decree and willfully violated it. (ie. he lied when he signed it) If he had no intention of following it, he should not have agreed.

  • sdc123 5 years ago

    To Mike O Risal: Nobody is forced to pray. If a prayer was led and student refused to participate (which I don't know how you would determine)and was then somehow punished, that would be a 1st amendment violation. Anything else is a violation of free speech. What we really need to question is whether a judge is within her constitutional jurisdiction when she passes a ruling that is an obvious violation of the freedom of speech. And 2wolves: separation of church and state is nowhere in the constitution and we all have to pay for secular public schools whether we use them or not.

  • Mick 5 years ago

    Since when is breaching out of court settlements considered a religious liberty?