Principal, Athletic Director Face Criminal Contempt Charges For Prayer; Defense Fund Established
August 10, 2009
Two Santa Rosa educators are facing criminal charges for praying in violation of a federal court order, and a criminal defense fund has been established to help with with their legal expenses.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit in federal court almost a year ago against the Santa Rosa School District, Pace High School Principal Frank Lay and then-Santa Rosa Superintendent John Rogers. The suit alleged that Santa Rosa County Schools “persistently and persuasively promote their personal religious beliefs in the public schools and at school events”.
A federal court order earlier this year prohibited, among other things, any prayer in schools, “reading from a sacred text”, “calling upon a deity to offer guidance, assistance or a blessing” and religious services such as baccalaureate services. There are circumstances were student-led prayers are permissible, but school employees are prohibited to participate in the prayer, even prohibited from “a posture or manner that is likely to be perceived as an endorsement of prayer, e.g. bowing their heads, kneeling or folding their hands”.
Lay and Freeman were ordered to appear before a federal judge on criminal contempt charges for allegedly violating the court order. They are scheduled to appear in federal court on September 17. They could, depending on the judge’s ruling, be forced to pay fines or serve time in jail.
Several supporters, including Milton insurance agent Robert Smith have formed a legal defense fund to help the two men pay their legal expenses. It will, according to the site, take $8,000 for them to pay the retainer for a lawyer to represent them in the September 17 hearing.
The site, layfreemandefense.com, asks supporters to make donations to the Lay and Freeman Defense Fund at any First National Bank of Florida. The site is also selling t-shirts for $10.
The site also details a Sawmill Band concert and hamburger supper that will be held at 5:30 on September 10 at the Farmer’s Opry in Chumuckla to benefit the criminal defense fund.
The criminal defense fund was opened last Tuesday. By Wednesday, the balance was at $3,710. By last Friday, the fund balance had grown to $6454.35.
The lawsuit filed last year names specific events at several Santa Rosa schools, including Jay. The suit states that Jay High School held an invocation and benediction prayer each year from 2004-2008 led by students from groups such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. The ACLU also complains in the suit that Jay High School has held baccalaureate services that were religious in nature.
The ACLU also requested documents from the Escambia County School District that might relate to religion or prayer. Specifically, the ACLU requested records from Escambia Schools about graduations and baccalaureate services. The ACLU public records requests also asked for the notes of all speakers at the event as well as any audio or video recordings of the events. The ACLU request extended to all schools in Escambia County, including Northview High School.
Read the complete criminal contempt order against Lay and Freeman by clicking here (pdf).