Settlement Negotiated To End School Religion Dispute

July 2, 2011

A settlement has been reached in an ongoing lawsuit over a consent decree agreement that barred religious activities and teacher-led prayer in Santa Rosa County.

The agreement will end three years of legal fighting between the American Civil Liberties Union, the Santa Rosa County School District and Liberty Counsel, a conservative Christian legal group.

Liberty Counsel will receive $265,000 in legal fees. The group says the deal won’t cost taxpayers with the fees coming from the school district’s insurance company, but the ACLU says taxpayers will foot the bill. The ACLU has agreed to waive their $150,000 legal bill to the school district.

“It’s an unseemly payoff,” said Benjamin James Stevenson, attorney in the ACLU of Florida’s Northwest Regional Office in Pensacola. “They came in after the fact, stirred up some controversy, raised some money on this invented issue, and will leave town likely with $265,000 in taxpayer money that would be better spent on the students in our community.”

“This is a huge step in the right direction and a victory for the citizens in Santa Rosa County,” the Liberty Counsel said.

The battle between the groups started after U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers signed a consent decree between the ACLU and the school district that required school employees to stop promoting their personal religious beliefs in public schools.

“Our original agreement with the school district was clear and consistent with religious liberty provisions of the Constitution,” said the ACLU’s Stevenson on Friday. “To the extent there was any confusion – real or mostly invented – about what the Constitution requires, we want to be clear and have been even more clear now.”

In September, 2009, the Liberty Counsel rejected an offer by the ACLU and the School District to avoid exposing taxpayers to expensive litigation by making clarifications to the original agreement.

Most of the clarifications to the original agreement were minor, according to the ACLU. Two highlights include new language that makes it clear that although district employees may not lead prayer or religious activities, or allow or direct others to do so, they may remain still and clasp their hands as a show of respect while students pray. And new language gives express permission for employees to say things such as, “God bless” or “Good heavens” to express surprise.

“Despite contrived examples of threats to religious freedom and concocted claims confusion, the original agreement and court order never blocked or interfered with personal religious expression,” Stevenson said. “It was never unclear but now it’s double-clear, you can say “God bless you” when someone sneezes.”

The rules apply only to district employees while they are on the job. The latest agreement states: “As the Court has previously made clear, ‘the plain language of the consent decree simply does not address the conduct of school employees in any context other than in their official capacity.’”

“As a result of this settlement, Liberty Counsel’s clients who are teachers will now be able to pray at school during their break times, pray during school events in a nonofficial capacity, attend and fully participate in baccalaureate services, have a Bible on their desk, wear religious jewelry, and assign readings from the Bible to students when relevant to nonreligious academic assignments. Students will be allowed to voluntarily pray, submit religious answers in homework, and freely participate in private, after-school religious programs,” the Liberty Counsel said in a prepared statement.

Before becoming final, the settlement must be approved by the Santa Rosa School District, which meets on Tuesday, and then be approved the courts.

Pictured: A prayer rally was held in March 2009 at Jay High School. NorthEscambia.com file photos, click to enlarge.

Comments

32 Responses to “Settlement Negotiated To End School Religion Dispute”

  1. David Huie Green on July 6th, 2011 10:13 pm

    REGARDING:
    “The Supreme Court prohibited the free exercise and deprived those who wished to do it of liberty”

    It has forbidden the agents of the state (such as teachers and principals) from doing so in their capacity as agents of the state. It has not forbidden them as individuals and outside their duties as agents of the state from doing so. If you write religious practices into the school curriculum, you are pushing that religion. What you would be teaching might be perfect other than the fact that it is forcing people to teach it and forcing people to participate in it. Would you like to be forced to take part in religious practices with which you strongly disagree?

    You also run into situations like this one in which the state violates what the Supremes have said by trying to stop people from speaking as individuals when not acting as agents of the state. There are many violations which are not considered because nobody complained. If there is a complaint, that means someone felt they were being compelled to observe religious practices with which they disagree.

    Had the school not been violating the law in the first place, the problem wouldn’t have come up in the first place. Then the solution violated the law in a different way by telling the teachers what they could do as private citizens and students what they could say in addresses.

    David for smarter educators
    and understanding the Golden Rule
    (at least by those who know what it is)

  2. SW on July 6th, 2011 5:36 pm

    @David,

    Your point about who pays is spot on.

    However, do you see the irony in your post

    “The very first amendment included the statement “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”
    That was a restriction on what the United States Congress could do.

    Then it was amended again to include “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

    The Supreme Court prohibited the free exercise and deprived those who wished to do it of liberty.

    I agree with Mr. Sherman’s point, too. Although, I disagree, the US Supreme Court has, in fact, ruled against prayer in school…except under very strict guidelines…which again is somewhat restrictive…right? (One case involves the Sante Fe ISD in Texas and using the PA for prayer at ball games).

  3. David Huie Green on July 5th, 2011 2:40 pm

    REGARDING:
    “Any money that Liberty Counsel is receiving is solely from insurance companies, not on the backs of taxpayers”

    I forget. Who pays the insurance companies to insure them?

    David the forgetful

  4. Steve132 on July 5th, 2011 9:34 am

    The ACLU was the first to file suit against the School District about three years ago. In order to protect the constitutional rights of teachers, staff, students and members of the community Liberty Counsel was left with no choice than to file suit against the School District. Liberty Counsel offered to represent the School District twice at no cost but was turned down both times.

    The ACLU would love you to think that they selflessly chose to waive their attorney’s fees against the School District. The fact is the ACLU has no right to any attorney fees at all. Their involvement in the Allen case filed by Liberty Counsel was as a Defendant-Intervener thus disqualifying them from collecting attorney fees.

    An accusation that Liberty Counsel has been awarded any taxpayer money is ridiculous. Any money that Liberty Counsel is receiving is solely from insurance companies, not on the backs of taxpayers.

  5. David Huie Green on July 4th, 2011 2:48 pm

    REGARDING:
    “Does anyone really know what the Constitution of the United States says; not some liberal interpretation by some agenda-wielding federal judge?”

    The only nod to religious practices in the unamended Constitution is in “If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law,” so it assumed the President would take off on Sundays, probably for religious practices since golf wasn’t popular back then.

    The very first amendment included the statement “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”

    That was a restriction on what the United States Congress could do. Then it was amended again to include “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

    That restricted what the states could do and affected religious liberty as well. That’s why schools–as agents of the states–are restricted.

    So you know what it says. To know what it means, you must turn back to Article 3 which includes “The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court,“ which means the Supreme Court is Supreme in its decisions as to what it means–even if they are liberal or conservative or have an agenda it says it means what they say it means, ‘cause they‘re the SUPREMES.

    They change their minds every so often, but are never wrong, by definition.

    David for liberty

  6. Bill Sherman on July 4th, 2011 10:21 am

    As has been previously stated, the U.S. Supreme Court has NEVER banned prayer or the Bible from public schools, my daughter was a member of the Fellowship of Christian Students at Escambia County High School throughout high school.

    Let me explain it this way – Bring Prayer into Public Schools – but first – Whose prayer? We must satisfy everyone because there is no mention of a specific religion in the U.S. Constitution! So on the first Monday of the month we do Anglican, then Baptist on Tuesday, then Buddhism on Wednesday, then Catholicism on Thursday, then Deism on Friday, then Episcopalians on Monday, then Hinduism on Tuesday, then Holiness on Wednesday, then Islamic on Thursday, then Judaism on Friday, then Lutheranism on Monday, then Methodism on Tuesday, then Nazarene on Wednesday, then Pentecostal on Thursday, then Rastafarian on Friday, then Samaritanism on Monday, then Scientology on Tuesday, then Sikhism on Wednesday, then Taoism on Thursday and finally (for now) Zoroastrianism on Friday. Then you start over to make certain that no religion was excluded and to then include the overlooked religions and now begin again … and do it again and again and again. How do you feel? How do you fell about your child being forced to listen to the prayers and beliefs of a dozen or more religions that you do not believe in – all because YOU wanted prayer in public schools. Be careful what you wish for … you may get it!

    Do you now understand why it is imperative that the government or its’ agents must remain neutral in matters of religion. Read your history, look at all the religious wars throughout the ages, look at how one state sponsored religion has oppressed, tortured, and killed millions upon millions in the same country throughout time. Do you not know that Jews, Christians, and Muslims ALL sprang from the same source. That Jesus and ALL the disciples were born and raised Jewish. That “Allah” is the standard Arabic translation for GOD – the only Deity, creator of the universe and omnipotent.

    I am certain that I would not want my children to have any part in a religion that proclaims its superiority by belittling the beliefs of others or coercing children to change their beliefs. That does not sound like the “Golden Rule” that I learned – in CHURCH.

  7. Greg on July 4th, 2011 5:59 am

    Praise God for answered prayers!

  8. Stephanie on July 3rd, 2011 10:59 pm

    Thank you Pastor Joey Rodgers (Pace Assembly) for taking on this fight for our kids long before Liberty was on board. You are definetely an awesome man of God. Thank you for not backing down when people came against you. If more people would stand up instead of sitting idley by, maybe the whole state could turn around.

  9. Mgirl on July 3rd, 2011 7:50 pm

    Think back before prayer and Bible reading was taken out of our schools. The biggest behavior problems of the children were gum chewing, spit ball throwing etc. Look at our school NOW, Drugs, sex, guns, killings.
    When you kick God out, it leaves the door open for the devil to come in. I think this is what has happened in our schools today.

  10. SW on July 3rd, 2011 9:56 am

    Does anyone really know what the Constitution of the United States says; not some liberal interpretation by some agenda-wielding federal judge?

    Joe may have it right. Sometimes the unintended consequence rears it’s ugly head all too soon.

    It is time for the states to stand up for themselves and quit bowing to this corrupt federal leviathan in DC.

  11. Concerned on July 3rd, 2011 9:43 am

    In response to all who believe religion should not be taught in school. Religion has been the basis for the beginning of every civilization since the beginning of time. Religion is one of the six components you must have to be considered civilized. So before you say teachers need to do their job and not teach religion in school, maybe you need become educated enough to make an informed comment about what needs to be taught in school.

  12. M on July 3rd, 2011 7:32 am

    What is all this anger about getting religion shoved down your throats and pushed on your children?This is about people being able to be religious freely,without being attacked by non-believers.Your children aren;’t being taught religion,they’re learning that there are different people out there . If your scared of religion maybe you should be.

  13. Steven on July 3rd, 2011 3:24 am

    Bash the ACLU all you want, but at least they waived their fees. The Liberty Council sure isn’t, and at the cost of insurance rates going higher. Yay. Great job there. To all who want religion taught to their children in school……send them to a religious school. Plenty of them around to choose from. But, as religion has never been cheap, be prepared to pay handsomely for it. We should not have religion promoted in our government sponsored education system. The time and money spent to cover all of the religions, so that it is far and unbiased, would take away from our teachers doing the job they are payed for………teaching our kids. Religion has its place. In your home and in your church. Not in our schools. I believe in God. I believe in a structured universe brought forth from the will on One God. I just don’t think it belongs in public schools.

  14. molino jim on July 2nd, 2011 10:23 pm

    The way the consent reads is you can still say God bless you and so on. I am not a fan of the ACLU but they won(?), then waived their legal fees of $ 150,000. Liberty counsel accepted 250,000 for their legal fees and are keeping it. As far as the money being paid out by the insurance company–it comes from all of us in the form of our fee’s. With the number and types of religions in this area I feel that the class room is not the place for the teacher to lead the students in that teachers choose of prayer. There are a number of schools in this area that are religion based and that may be the better choose for the parent who wishes to have religion instruction. I can and do pray on a regular basis—but I do not have to make a show of it–it is just between my God and myself.

  15. baebae on July 2nd, 2011 9:11 pm

    GOD IS STILL ON THE THRONE….THATS FOR SURE !!!

  16. barrineau on July 2nd, 2011 8:09 pm

    To me this whole situtation is laughable , we teach our kids that “you” have a right to speak your mind …….as long as the ACLU likes what your saying ?

  17. Tom Baxter on July 2nd, 2011 6:54 pm

    Thanks God, we have folks like Liberty Counsel to defended God against the ACLU for only $265,000.

  18. jp on July 2nd, 2011 12:13 pm

    Thinker,
    To answer your question, how about an accurate history of the Middle East? Another would be, on what basis did the allied nations seek to form a jewish
    nation at the intersection of where the ancient world (Asia, Africa, and Europe),
    come together? What about what in Jewish history would grant the young, tiny
    nation the ability to distroy, within 7 days, the surounding Arab nations that sim-
    ultaniously attacked it by surprize. Not only did Israel totaly distroy their armys,
    but greatly added to it’s size in land by simply fighting a defensive war. That was
    in 1967. It doesn’t take much “thinking” if you know your Bible and some world
    history.

  19. Thinker on July 2nd, 2011 10:57 am

    Quoted: “…and assign readings from the Bible to students when relevant to nonreligious academic assignments.” Can someone give me an example of when a reading from the Bible would be relevant to an academic assignment? And if such is the case, then I would certainly expect that readings from the Hindu texts and the Koran and other historical traditions like the Talmud would also be assigned or could be referenced. In other words, preference to Christianity in education is NOT American, it is biased, arrogant and insensitive, aside from any legal issues. Stop accusing the ACLU and take a hard look at yourselves.

  20. Debie & James on July 2nd, 2011 10:56 am

    All we can say is praise GOD. We will praise Him and pray and witness for Him til the end of time anytime, anywhere we choose.

  21. joe on July 2nd, 2011 10:41 am

    Everyone needs to remember that when you fight to protect religious rights,
    the religious rights of others, who do not worship or believe the way we might,
    fall into the category as well.

    So the victory of being able to say “God Bless You” When a person sneezes,
    also allows a Satanist to say “May You Burn in Hell”

    Some Victories seem less Victorious after the dust settles and we are able to clearly see what has really happened.

  22. Wally on July 2nd, 2011 10:00 am

    Members of the ACLU beware, you will be judged by God one day, May He have mercy on your soul.

  23. Frank on July 2nd, 2011 9:40 am

    Athiests – Communists – Liberals – Union… (ACLU)
    Did you talk to the Teachers of Santa Rosa Co. and see how clear they were on the restrictions???
    Told we can’t even say “God Bless you” or be seen by student praying over our food???
    I thank God for the “Center for Law and Justice” that WE asked to represent US in this fight… And not charge us a dime… Contrary to Mr. Stevenson’s comment, evidently he does NOT understand, insurance monies can NOT be spent on local students… & what about the many $$$$ they received the first time around? I think he lies to us to save face, how about you?

  24. pp on July 2nd, 2011 9:37 am

    To: open your minds,

    Pray tell, what is THEIR religion, that you refer? Do you perfer a hopless future
    with nothing but death and “nothingness” to follow? From your remarks, I tend
    to think you don’t have faith in a devine creator. I do, and I believe in our nations
    constitution that protects the right to “worship” , or not, according to ones’ con-
    victions. Location of these rights are not specified. In fact it says these rights
    will not be infringed.

    The truth is, you have your hopless future you chose and I have my reward in
    heaven that I chose. Whose right? Who is better off? If you are right then we
    both have nothing to lose as my reward will be the same as yours. Now, the
    question is-WHAT IF I AM RIGHT? You see I have everything to gain and
    nothing to lose. You, on the other hand stand to lose everything reguardless.

    The Bible says not to rely on your own knowledge, but on every word that cometh from God. It also says that if you deny Christ before man, he will deny you before
    the Father.

    I agree, however, that students should not be taught a certain belief in anything
    as far as certain denominations or faiths. That includes “DARWINISM”. They
    should be allowed to pray to the God of their choice-not the choice of the aclu.

  25. Tony on July 2nd, 2011 9:13 am

    Congratulations to the ACLU on a huge victory. The school district should be commended for confessing their errors and agreeing to a consent judgment. It is a shame that taxpayers will foot the bill for the donation to liberty counsel, but those in charge will remember that all of this was caused by the district’s decision to flagrantly violate the first amendment.

  26. bwayne on July 2nd, 2011 8:30 am

    I agree with you “billy”….about not spending a dime with any business that has anything to do with the ACLU. They are just another org. trying to bring America to it’s knees by using their interpretation of the constitution against us.

  27. Open your minds on July 2nd, 2011 8:05 am

    Thank you ACLU for not permitting this school district to continue to force THEIR religious views down the throats of these students.

  28. M on July 2nd, 2011 8:03 am

    It’s about time the good guys won for a change.And I really think since the aclu caused the stir up ,they should pay the Liberty council the $265000.If they had to pay court coast everytime they lose,they might not want to get in to every thing.

  29. jp on July 2nd, 2011 6:30 am

    The fact the aclu would conceed on ANYTHING concerning anything but atheism
    in public schools seems to show they are not so certain of their “constitutional
    position” as they would like. It would seem the democretic sponsered org.
    has “retreated” in the face of orginized opposition-Liberty Council. I would not
    be suprized if the Liberty Council is investigated by the “unamerican activities”
    people and declared “terrorist” with their leaders having their taxes audited.

    Afterall, that’s the democratic way!

  30. 429SCJ on July 2nd, 2011 4:21 am

    The way things are going we will have this matter setteled very soon. We need to make sure we get those nice people at the ACLU on a list, we will want to reward them for all they have given us. The ACLU served their master well, we will serve our’s as well!

  31. OldMarine on July 2nd, 2011 1:26 am

    Never thought I would see kids getting busted for praying

  32. billy on July 2nd, 2011 12:39 am

    I wont spend a dime at any business that has anything to do with the aclu.





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