SANTA ROSA COUNTY, Fla. -- Pace High School Principal Frank Lay and Athletic Director Robert Freeman are both facing criminal contempt charges for a prayer offered at a Field House Luncheon. The luncheon included former booster club members and other adults who helped the field house project. Liberty Counsel represents Principal Lay and Director Freeman in this case.
Last year the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the Santa Rosa County School District, claiming that some of the teachers and administration "endorsed" religion. Rather than fight, the School District consented to the entry of an order that prohibited, among other things, all prayer at school-sponsored events. The School District then consented to a much broader order fashioned by the ACLU, which essentially bans all employees from engaging in prayer or religious activities, whether before, during, or after school hours. Without any legal argument, the federal district court in Pensacola, Florida, entered the Consent Order. The order unconstitutionally infringes on the rights of teachers, administrators, and students. Liberty Counsel filed a motion to intervene, on behalf of Christian Educators Association International, to challenge the overreaching order.
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In the meantime, the ACLU began to go against individual employees. The ACLU complained to the court that Mr. Freeman and Mr. Lay offered a prayer to bless the meal served to consenting adults at the appreciation luncheon. Based on the ACLU's allegations, U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers has now initiated criminal contempt proceedings and has referred Messrs. Lay and Freeman to the United States Attorney's office for prosecution. The U.S.A. has accepted the assignment and is prosecuting Mr. Lay and Mr. Freeman criminally for the mealtime prayer. Trial is scheduled for September 17. If convicted, Mr. Lay and Mr. Freeman are subject to fines and imprisonment, yet neither willfully violated any orders of the court.
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. The Founders believed that religion and morality are the twin pillars of the Republic. Judeo-Christianity was taught in public schools, because such teaching was the foundation of liberty. George Washington said that whoever undermines the twin pillars of religion and morality cannot be called a 'Patriot.' It is outrageous and an offense to the First Amendment to punish a school official for a simple prayer."