Springtime in the Smoky Mountains
Showing posts with label School Prayer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label School Prayer. Show all posts

Monday, June 7, 2010

Florida Enacts Legislation Protecting Private Prayer in Schools

From LifeSiteNews
By Peter J. Smith

lorida has enacted a new law protecting the rights of individuals at public schools to engage freely in prayer and other religious expression.
Gov. Charlie Crist signed the bill, which had been passed by the legislature in May, on Friday.

The bill (HB 31) originated as a response to a controversy surrounding the Santa Rosa County School District, which had been pressured by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to adopt a policy that forbade all school personnel from engaging in non-official school-related religious activities.

“Our First Amendment rights, granted to us by the U.S. Constitution are absolute, and this law ensures that they remain that way,” said Rep. Greg Evers (R-01) in a statement provided to local Florida online journal, NorthEscambia.com. Evers said the law would protect students “who want to thank God in a commencement speech” or bow their heads in silent prayer “without fear of being questioned or stopped.”

The law states that district school boards and their employees are prohibited from taking proactive measures, including making agreements, that infringe or waive “the rights or freedoms afforded to instructional personnel, school staff, or students by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.” It says that written consent from “the individual whose constitutional rights would be impacted” would be necessary before such steps could be taken.

The version of the bill signed into law by Gov. Crist will prevent school officials from interfering in the religious expression of students and school employees at events. However, it would not authorize official, organized school prayer, religious expression, or recognition of God at events such as sports events and student assemblies.

The original version of the law sought by the state House of Representatives actually would have empowered public schools to permit “delivery of an inspirational message, including a prayer or an invocation, at a noncompulsory high school activity” if a majority of students had requested it. Students also then would have selected a representative to deliver the message.

Nonetheless, the new law will prevent situations like that in the Santa Rosa County school district, where school officials caved to ACLU pressure and signed onto a Consent Decree in 2008 which prohibited religious expression, such as voluntary, student-initiated prayers or off-the-clock religious discussion among adults.

Some public school staff in the district testified in an ongoing lawsuit that the Consent Decree has proved so draconian that among other things they practically have to hide in closets to pray and have been forbidden to participate freely in private, off-campus baccalaureate services. The court testimony also stated that under the agreement reached with the ACLU teachers could not reply to emails from parents containing the words “God bless” or other religious language, and that staff have to censor private, after-school groups from engaging in religious expression or prayer.

Three staff members were charged with violating the Consent Decree, but later found not guilty. Pace High School Principal Frank Lay faced contempt charges for asking Athletic Director Robert Freeman, also charged with contempt, to bless a meal during a dinner held at the high school. Both men faced up to $5,000 in fines, six months in jail, and the possible loss of their retirement benefits.

Local Fox 10 reports that Lay has now retired as principal from Pace High School, ending a thirty-five year career with the school district.

School teacher Michelle Winkler was similarly charged, because her husband, who is not a school board employee, offered a prayer, written by Winkler, at a private awards ceremony honoring non-instructional employees of the district. The charges were later dropped.

School officials also torpedoed a thirty-year tradition of having the student body president address fellow students at Pace High School, because Pace student president for the 2008-2009 school year, Mary Allen, included in her speech a reference thanking God for her success and made other references to God.

The public advocacy group Liberty Counsel is currently litigating against the ACLU and the District to overturn the Consent Decree, and plans to ask the court responsible for the decree to reconsider its enforcement in light of the new law.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Florida School District Faces Lawsuit Over Ban on Religious Expression

From LifeSiteNews

he Santa Rosa County School District
faces a lawsuit from a Christian legal advocacy group for allegedly violating First Amendment rights of teachers, students, and other individuals by muzzling their ability to exercise their religious beliefs in public.

Liberty Counsel (LC) has filed a comprehensive lawsuit against the Santa Rosa County School District and its Superintendent, Timothy S. Wyrosdick, accusing them of persistent and widespread violations of First Amendment rights.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two dozen individuals, including teachers, staff, students, former students, parents, volunteers and local members of the community, all of whom say they have been silenced, censored, intimidated or harassed by the school district at the behest of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The school district had agreed to a Consent Decree drafted by the ACLU and entered by a federal court, that LC says criminalizes protected religious expression, such as voluntary, student-initiated prayers or off-the-clock religious discussion among adults.

The suit says that students can no longer say “God Bless,” Christian teachers are relegated to the closet as far as any manifestation of their beliefs go, parents cannot communicate frankly with teachers, volunteers cannot answer any questions regarding religion, Christian groups cannot rent school facilities for private religious functions benefiting students, and pastors are dictated how they can and cannot seat their audiences at private, religious baccalaureate services held inside their own houses of worship.

Initially, the ACLU got involved when two graduating minors and their parents appeared as plaintiffs in a complaint filed against the School Board, Superintendent, and H. Frank Lay in his official capacity as principal of Pace High School.

Rather than fight the complaint, the school district voluntarily agreed to pay off the ACLU with $200,000 in legal fees, and enter into a Consent Decree, which the lawsuit says contains “broad prohibitions against religious speech and expression” by school district employees “anytime those employees are present at a ‘School Event,’ regardless of whether they are there in their official or private capacity.”

School events are defined as “any happening sponsored, approved or supervised by a School Official.”

Liberty Counsel says three school officials have since faced civil and criminal contempt charges at the hands of the ACLU and the school district, and that many school employees are afraid of speaking out against the policy for fear of losing their jobs.

“The Consent Decree defines, and the School Board interprets, the word ‘Prayer’ broadly, to include not just communications with a deity in the traditional sense, where the person praying postures with head bowed, eyes closed and hands folded, but any form of religious expression or conduct, such as engaging in religious discourse, reading or discussing the Bible, or merely greeting other individuals with ‘God Bless You’ or ‘I am praying for you,’” says the lawsuit.

School officials torpedoed a thirty-year tradition of having the student body President address fellow students at Pace High School, because the student president for the 2008-2009 school year included in her speech a reference thanking God for her success and encouraged students to go out boldly into the world knowing God loves them and has great plans for them.

At Milton High School, one school official sternly warned every student at a practice for graduation exercises that anyone who would initiate or participate in any prayer during the graduation ceremony would be ejected immediately.

“Freedom fled from Santa Rosa County when the ACLU filed suit. Liberty Counsel intends to restore freedom and end the intimidation,” commented Mathew Staver, Founder of Liberty Counsel.

Liberty Counsel is seeking to have the court issue an injunction stopping enforcement on the Consent Decree, a declaratory judgment on the constitutionality of the order, and award damages to plaintiffs for violations of the United States Constitution.

The complaint and attached evidence can be found here.

Friday, June 5, 2009

400 Students Defy ACLU and Stand to Recite Lord's Prayer at Graduation

From LifeSiteNews
By John Jalsevac

Nearly 400 graduating seniors at Pace High School stood up in protest against the ACLU and recited the Lord’s Prayer during their graduation ceremony last Saturday. Many of the students also painted crosses on their graduation caps to make a statement of faith. (To watch a video of the prayer, click here)

The prayerful protest by the students comes on the heels of a lawsuit the ACLU filed against the Santa Rosa County School District (FL), claiming some of the teachers and administration endorsed religion. The suit was filed on behalf of two students, who said that the teachers were promoting their views of religion.

The two teachers at Pace High School were Principal Frank Lay and school teacher Michelle Winkler. The ACLU alleges that during a dinner event held at the school, Principal Lay asked the athletic director to bless the meal. In another incident, the ACLU alleges that Michelle Winkler’s husband, who is not a school board employee, offered prayer at an awards ceremony

According to the ACLU lawsuit, graduation ceremonies during the past five years at Central, Jay, Milton, Navarre and Pace High Schools in the Santa Rosa District have included prayers by students – often members of groups like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes or the Christian World Order. The graduation ceremonies at Santa Rosa Adult School and Santa Rosa Learning Academy also have included prayers.

Leading up to the graduation ceremony, the ACLU demanded that Pace High School censor students from offering prayers or saying anything religious. In the end, members of the student body were not permitted to speak at the graduation.

The graduating class at the school, however, decided to react against the ACLU bullying by taking a stand at graduation. As soon as Principal Lay asked everyone to be seated at the ceremony, the graduating class remained standing and recited the Lord’s Prayer.

ACLU attorney Benjamin Stevenson told ABC Channel Three after the event: "Our feeling is that it's regrettable that the students took over the ceremony to impose their religious views on the audience who may not have shared the same religious views.

"School officials have a responsibility to protect the silently held religious views of others."

Stevenson said that something should have been done to stop the recitation of the Lord's Prayer and that it is too early to know whether the ACLU will pursue further legal action.

Mathew D. Staver, Founder of Liberty Counsel and Dean of Liberty University School of Law, commented: “Neither students nor teachers shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate. The students at Pace High School refused to remain silent and were not about to be bullied by the ACLU.

“We have decided to represent faculty, staff and students of Pace High School,” he said, “because the ACLU is clearly violating their First Amendment rights. Schools are not religion-free zones, and any attempt to make them so is unconstitutional.”