Pensacola, FL – Trial testimony concluded this week in which Christian Educators Association International (CEAI) is seeking to intervene to overturn an ACLU court order that has already resulted in three school officials being charged with contempt. Liberty Counsel represents CEAI. Testimony revealed how this order has literally driven Christians to hide in closets to pray in order to avoid contempt charges.
In August, Liberty Counsel successfully defended Michelle Winkler, a clerical assistant, from contempt charges brought by the ACLU after her husband, who is not employed by the Santa Rosa County School District, offered a meal prayer at a privately sponsored event in a neighboring county. On Constitution Day, Liberty Counsel successfully defended Pace High School Principal Frank Lay and Athletic Director Robert Freeman against criminal contempt charges, after the ACLU complained when Freeman offered a 15-second blessing for a lunch meal for about 20 adults with no students present.
CEAI is seeking to intervene to protect the rights of District employees. Under the order crafted by the ACLU, school officials are considered to be acting in their “official capacity” whenever they attend a “school event,” which the order describes as any event “approved” by the a school official. These include events during the day, including breaks, after-school events on or off campus, and privately sponsored events held on campus. A “school event” also includes a private group renting the school facilities if the “primary attendees” are students, such as the Scouts and Good News Clubs. At “school events,” “communication with a deity” is prohibited. “School officials” cannot even show agreement with anyone “communicating with a deity,” such as “bowing the head” or “folding hands.” “School officials” must also prohibit “third-parties” from praying, and must ban prayer from privately sponsored meetings of Good News Clubs or similar groups, including privately sponsored baccalaureate services.
During testimony, Michelle Winkler broke down on the witness stand when she described how a coworker sought comfort from her after losing her two-year-old child. The two hid behind a closet door to pray, for fear they would be seen and held in contempt of the court order. Denise Gibson, an elementary teacher for 20 years, testified the order forces her to tell parents she cannot respond if they talk about church or their faith. She may not even respond to an email from a parent if it contains a Scripture verse or “God bless you.” Instead, the District requires her to open a separate email to respond rather than hit “reply,” in order to eliminate any trace of religious language.
Mathew D. Staver, Founder of Liberty Counsel and Dean of Liberty University School of Law, commented: “The court order crafted by the ACLU takes my breath away. I am embarrassed for our country, knowing that school employees in Santa Rosa County are hiding in closets to pray out of fear they may be hauled into court by the ACLU. We intend to restore religious freedom to Santa Rosa County. We will not allow the ACLU to criminalize Christianity.”
This article is excerpted from a Liberty Counsel press release.