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Criminal Contempt Case Over a Meal Prayer Goes to Trial on National Constitution Day

by Staff
September 17, 2009
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SANTA ROSA COUNTY, FL, (christiansunite.com) -- Today, Liberty Counsel will be in federal District Court in Pensacola representing the Principal of Pace High School, Frank Lay and Athletic Director Robert Freeman as they face criminal contempt charges for a prayer over a meal. Ironically, today is National Constitution Day.

During a luncheon to honor those who contributed toward the school's athletic Field House, Principal Lay asked Mr. Freeman to offer a blessing for the meal. Students were not present at the time of the blessing. Lay and Freeman thought nothing of the matter nor did those being honored. But the ACLU ran to court, claiming both men should be held in criminal contempt. Lay and Freeman have a combined 70 years of public school service. If convicted, they face up to $5,000 in fines, six months in jail, and they may lose their retirement benefits.

Today's trial comes on the heels of the trial of Michelle Winkler, a receptionist, who asked her husband, who is not a school employee, to bless the evening meal at a separate, privately sponsored event held off campus after school to honor non- instructional staff. The ACLU urged the court to hold Winkler in contempt, but after a 7 ' hour trial, the judge sided with Liberty Counsel.

Yesterday, Cong. Randy Forbes, the Chair of the bipartisan Congressional Prayer Caucus, Cong. Mike McIntyre, Co-Chair, and Cong. Jeff Taylor, whose district includes Santa Rosa County, along with over 30 members of the Caucus, sent a letter of support to Lay, Freeman and Winkler. The letter states the members "are standing with you in prayer and support as you face your trial on Thursday because of offering a prayer." Members of Congress voted to authorize a Chaplain to offer a prayer at the first session of Congress. The letter concludes: "The tradition of offering prayer in America has become so interwoven into our nation's spiritual heritage, that to charge someone criminally for engaging in such an innocent practice would astonish the men who founded this country on religious freedom." Last night members of Congress, including Cong. Forbes and Cong. Jeff Miller, made speeches on the House floor in support of Lay, Freeman, and Winkler, while pointing out the sad irony that they are being tried on National Constitution Day.

Mathew D. Staver, Founder of Liberty Counsel and Dean of Liberty University School of Law, commented: "While we celebrate our enduring Constitution, we are reminded that liberty is always a generation away from extinction. Liberty is not inherited and is not transmitted in our DNA. Liberty must be secured by each generation. What a sad state of affairs, when on the day we celebrate the oldest and most enduring Constitution in the world, that honorable public servants are tried as criminals for praying over a meal. This may be the America the ACLU seeks, but it is not the America Liberty Counsel knows, nor is it the America the Founders envisioned."

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