Last year, a school administrator at a public high school in Florida said a prayer at a school luncheon at the request of another administrator. That’s illegal to say the least, since children were present, and school officials should not be using their positions of authority to promote a particular faith.
Apparently, that wasn’t the only time that happened, either.
The ACLU filed suit last year against the district on behalf of two [Pace High School] students who alleged that “school officials regularly promoted religion and led prayers at school events,” according to an ACLU statement.
Both parties approved the consent decree put in place January 9, under which district and school officials are “permanently prohibited from promoting, advancing, endorsing, participating in or causing prayers during or in conjunction with school events,” the ACLU said.
[Principal Frank] Lay was a party in the initial lawsuit, and his attorney was among those approving the consent decree, according to the organization. In addition, the court required that all district employees receive a copy.
On January 28, “Lay asked Freeman to offer a prayer of blessing during a school-day luncheon for the dedication of a new fieldhouse at Pace High School,” according to court documents. “Freeman complied with the request and offered the prayer at the event. It appears this was a school-sponsored event attended by students, faculty and community members.”
Principal Lay had already been warned against doing such thing:
In a February 4 letter to district Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick in which Lay acknowledged the incident, he said that although past football booster club members “and other adults associated with the school system” were at the luncheon, culinary class students were in charge of food preparation and serving.
Lay wrote that he asked Freeman to bless the food “for the adults. … I take full responsibility for this action. My actions were overt and not meant to circumvent any court order or constitutional mandate.”
In response, Wyrosdick noted in a letter to Lay that in a meeting, the principal had admitted that “you are, and were at the date of this incident, aware of the court injunction and aware that this type of action is not permissible under the injunction.”
Wyrosdick recounted telling Lay that the prayer was not appropriate.
I almost felt sorry for Lay… was he really deserving of a prison sentence and a $5,000 fine? It sounded harsh. But then I read this from the Portland Humanist Examiner:
Pace High School, located in Florida’s Santa Rosa County School District, is a school of more than 1,800 students. Pace is known by many as “the Baptist Academy.” For years, teachers and staff delivered prayers, mandated students complete religious-oriented assignments and encouraged involvement in religious clubs. Teachers offered Bible readings or biblical interpretations and talked about the churches they attended. Christian prayers during sporting events and other activities were common. All this was encouraged and endorsed by Principal Frank Lay.
Principal Lay was warned repeatedly. He signed a document giving his word he would not engage in such activity only a week prior. Yet he violated the court order; he demonstrated that he was not a man of his word – his signature, his bond, his guarantee – meant nothing.
It would send a positive message to the kids if he served some jail time. No one is above the law. Those who break the law should be punished.
Forget jail. This man should simply be out of a job. There are plenty of administrators out there who can respect the law when it comes to church/state separation.
(Thanks to Jonna for the link!)