Educators face jail in Florida
(WASHINGTON TIMES) In response, many members of the 300-plus-member student body taped crosses to their mortarboards and stood for an impromptu recitation of the Lord’s Prayer during the ceremony.
Mr. Mach responded, “We believe students have the constitutional right to pray voluntarily in public or private. Constitutional problems arise only when public school officials promote or endorse prayer or specific religious views.”
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.
Mr. Staver said no students were present at the event, which was held on school property but after school hours.
“He wasn’t thinking he was violating an order,” he said. “Neither did the athletic director. He was asked to pray and so he did.”
Mr. Mach said the event was during the school day and that Mr. Lay, the school’s principal, has said in writing that students were present.
“Decisions about the religious upbringing of children should be left in the hands of parents, not school officials,” he said. As to whether prayer constitutes “religious upbringing,” he said, “If school officials were promoting non-majority faiths and religious viewpoints, I suspect there’d be an uproar.”
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.
Meanwhile, members of the small community of Milton, Fla., where Pace High School is located, have contributed more than $10,000 toward a legal defense fund for the defendants.
Anti-ACLU T-shirts are also being sold and the proceeds donated.
Judge Rodgers’ order also included Michelle Winkler, a clerical assistant who was attending a school district event in February with other school employees at a local naval base. There, she asked her husband to offer a blessing for a meal, says the ACLU, adding that students were present and led the Pledge of Allegiance.
“She didn’t do the blessing; she asked somebody to do it,” Mr. Staver said. “The ACLU is sending people to school to monitor things happening on campus and see if there is anything encouraging religious activity, then running to the court if they see anything.”
Her trial, which could result in a fine, is scheduled for Aug. 21.