It is not that Pace High School Principal Frank Lay and school athletic director Robert Freeman do not have a prayer, they had too many prayers. The two officials defied a settlement barring prayers on constitutional ground and now face six-month sentences — a matter of widespread protest among parents.
While I often defend free speech and free exercise on these pages, I must confess little sympathy for these officials. While the two officials have been made heroes among local families, they are accused of knowingly violated a settlement agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union and a court order. According to court papers, they defied the clear law barring such prayers in public schools. The Pace High School teachers handbook actually told teachers to “embrace every opportunity to inculcate, by precept and example, the practice of every Christian virtue.”
A federal court order prohibited, among other things, any prayer in schools, “reading from a sacred text”, “calling upon a deity to offer guidance, assistance or a blessing” as well as religious services. The two men are accused of intentionally violating that court order.
The officials not only decided that they were above the Constitution but openly defied their own Santa Rosa County School District, which agreed to comply with federal law. If officials are allowed to claim exemption from federal and constitutional law, they could preserve segregation or advance sectarian faiths as a matter of local values. It is not clear what these officials are teaching their students about citizenship in such actions. No one is preventing private prayer. They are employees of a school district which agreed to comply with constitutional standards that apply to thousands of schools across the country. If they decided that they were above such limits, they were wrong. While I do not see the need for jail, there is a basis for termination based on the alleged violations if proven.
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