Graduating students defy ACLU
Seniors stand and recite Lord’s Prayer
Members of the graduating class of 2009 at Florida’s Pace High School have expressed their objections to ACLU restrictions on statements of religious faith at their school by rising up en masse at their ceremony and reciting the Lord’s Prayer.
The incident happened just days ago, but has been virtually ignored by media outlets throughout the region, according to officials with Liberty Counsel, a legal team representing Principal Frank Lay and teacher Michelle Winkler in their battle with the ACLU, which had complained that faculty and teachers were talking about their beliefs.
Nearly 400 graduating seniors at Pace, a Santa Rosa County school, stood up at their graduation, according to Mathew Staver, president of Liberty Counsel.
Parents, family and friends joined in the recitation, and applauded the students when they were finished.
“Many of the students also painted crosses on their graduation caps to make a statement of faith,” the organization reported.
“Neither students nor teachers shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate,” said Staver, who also is dean of Liberty University School of Law. “The students at Pace High School refused to remain silent and were not about to be bullied by the ACLU.
“Schools are not religion-free zones, and any attempt to make them so is unconstitutional,” he said.
Liberty Counsel has been representing Lay and Winkler against ACLU demands that all statements of faith be censored. The law firm also had volunteered to represent the school board in the dispute, but board members chose their own outside counsel.
The ACLU had sued the school six months earlier and as part of the discussions over that dispute, the school’s separate counsel had agreed to a consent decree that “essentially bans all Santa Rose County School District employees from engaging in prayer or religious activities,” Liberty Counsel’s report said.
The ACLU had alleged that during a dinner event at the school, Lay had asked the athletic director to bless the meal. In a second incident, the ACLU claimed Winkler’s husband, who is not a school board employee, offered a prayer at an awards ceremony.
As preparations were being made for the 2009 graduation, the ACLU demanded the school censor students from offering prayers or saying anything religious. As a result, two student leaders traditionally allowed by the school to address their graduation were banned from doing so.
Staver said class members, furious with the ACLU for hijacking their free speech rights, assembled the plan on their own. As soon as Lay asked everyone to be seated for the ceremony, the graduating seniors remained standing and recited the Lord’s Prayer.
A local Fox station had reported that students enjoyed a baccalaureate at a nearby church before the graduation. Class President Kaitlynn Floyd said then class members were grateful for the opportunity to attend that event.
Staver reported concerns over the application of an agreement reached by the school board to students’ rights remains an unresolved issue.