School officials face jail time for meal-time prayers

A principal and an athletic director are facing criminal charges for a lunch-time prayer.

Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against Pace High School in Santa Rosa County, Florida. The ACLU claimed some teachers and administrators were endorsing religion, but the school chose to give in to the ACLU’s demands rather than fight them in court.

According to the settlement, all school employees are banned from engaging in prayer or religious activities before, during, or after school hours. Now two school officials are facing criminal charges for offering meal-time prayers at an appreciation dinner for adults who had helped with a school field house project. Principal Frank Lay and athletic director Robert Freeman are scheduled to go on trial next month on criminal contempt charges. If convicted, both are subject to fines and imprisonment.

Matt Staver is founder of Liberty Counsel, which will argue the court order prohibiting prayer at school-related events violated Lay’s and Freeman’s constitutional rights.

“In this particular case, Principal Frank Lay asked the athletic director to have a prayer for the meal at an honorary luncheon in celebration for some of the athletic achievements. And then in [another] situation, the clerical worker at an event where some employees of the school were present asked her husband, who is not an employee of the school, to have a blessing over a meal,” he explains. “Because of those two events, these individuals now face criminal contempt.”

Staver believes that the accusers in this case are students who recently graduated. If that is the case, he says the case is moot. However, Staver adds it is outrageous to punish a school official with potential jail time for simply praying.
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