Pensacola, FL – Today, Federal District Court Judge M. Casey Rodgers granted in part a Preliminary Injunction in favor of twenty-four clients of Liberty Counsel, and granted a request for hearing on their remaining claims. The case attracted national attention when the ACLU attempted to punish and even jail local school administrators and staff for praying over their meal. The ACLU pressured the Santa Rosa County (Florida) School Board into a Consent Decree that unconstitutionally forbids all manner of religious expression at school, right down to the mere uttering of the words “God Bless.” After vindicating the school officials charged with criminal contempt for prayer, Liberty Counsel filed suit to invalidate the unconstitutional Consent Decree. The School District joined hands with the ACLU in defending the Consent Decree, and both asked the Court to dismiss Liberty Counsel’s challenge.
Today, Judge Rodgers denied the motions to dismiss and concluded that the lawsuit must be allowed to proceed. Affirming Liberty Counsel’s long-standing position that the Consent Decree unconstitutionally bans the private speech of teachers, students, parents and community members at school, the Court concluded that “confusion exists regarding when [school employees] are acting in their official capacity, subject to the restrictions in the consent decree and other school policies, or when they are free to act or speak in a private capacity at school events.” In a blow to the ACLU’s argument that its Consent Decree was clear, the Court further concluded that “substantial confusion exists regarding what speech or conduct is permitted during school events.”
A trial on the merits will occur in mid-summer. In the meantime, Judge Rodgers concluded that even though “a preliminary injunction is an extraordinary and drastic remedy,” one aspect of the Consent Decree – its attempt to prohibit school employees from fully participating in private baccalaureate events – is so flawed that it must be immediately stopped. The Court thus enjoined the School Board “from enforcing any school policy that restrains in any way an employee’s participation in, or speech or conduct during, a private religious service, including baccalaureate” pending the trial on the merits.
Mathew D. Staver, Founder of Liberty Counsel and Dean of Liberty University School of Law, commented: “We are thrilled that the court has halted the School District and the ACLU from violating the constitutional rights of school employees. School employees do not lose their constitutional rights as a precondition to receiving a government paycheck. The ACLU-crafted Consent Degree is outrageous and blatantly unconstitutional. It literally attempted to criminalize Christianity. We are pleased that this assault on the Constitution has been halted.”