Florida Court Closets Christians

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Pensacola, FL – Following Judge M. Casey Rodgers’ ruling late Friday evening, which denied the request for intervention by Christian Educators Association International (CEAI), Liberty Counsel will file a direct lawsuit against the Santa Rosa School District. When the ACLU originally filed its suit against the District, Liberty Counsel offered to represent the school at no cost, but the offer was rejected. The new District Superintendent, Tim Wryosdick, and the school board attorney decided to cave in to the ACLU’s demands and enter into a consent decree which Judge Rodgers approved.

Representing CEAI, Liberty Counsel filed a motion to intervene in order to represent the interest of the faculty and staff, which the District and the ACLU clearly violated. Judge Rodgers’ ruling last evening, denying CEAI’s right to intervene, now means that Liberty Counsel will file a direct lawsuit against the District in order to get this unconstitutional order overturned before an appellate court.

During testimony in December, Michelle Winkler broke down on the witness stand when describing how a coworker sought comfort from her after losing her two-year-old child. The two hid behind a closet door to pray because they feared the consent decree. 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. School employees are prohibited from “communication with a deity” when in their “official capacity.” They are considered to be in their “official capacity” even when not working – whenever they attend a “school event,” which includes events during the day, including breaks, after-school events on or off campus, and privately sponsored events on campus for students. Employees cannot bow their head or fold their hands and must prohibit others from praying, even in meetings such as Good News Clubs or privately sponsored baccalaureate services. The ACLU has dragged three employees to court already, yet, Judge Rodgers states there is no “chill” on free speech.

Mathew D. Staver, Founder of Liberty Counsel and Dean of Liberty University School of Law, commented: “The court’s ruling has elevated this case to nuclear war. Liberty Counsel’s offer to defend the school district was denied by a superintendent who chose instead to sacrifice the rights of his employees. Content with the outrageous order from the ACLU, the superintendent then opposed the request to intervene by the Christian Educators Association International. Now Liberty Counsel will file a direct lawsuit against the school district. I am confident that when an appellate court reviews this outrageous order, it will be overturned and freedom will be vindicated. Anyone familiar with constitutional law cannot believe the breadth of this order. It is blatantly unconstitutional.”

This article is excerpted from a Liberty Counsel press release.