School Officials Cleared of Criminal Contempt Charges in Case Involving Prayer
September 18, 2009
SANTA ROSA COUNTY, FL, (christiansunite.com) -- Today Liberty Counsel successfully cleared Pace High School Principal Frank Lay and Athletic Director Robert Freeman of criminal contempt charges that arose out of a simple blessing of a meal. The criminal contempt hearing began when the ACLU asked that Lay and Freeman be held in contempt for offering a prayer over a meal at a luncheon where they honored donors to the athletic Field House project.
The federal courtroom in Pensacola, Florida, was packed with people supporting Lay and Freeman. The Pace High School students made T-shirts with the image of a potato chip that read: "Lay's Supportive Patriots." Busloads of people jammed the steps of the courthouse to cheer and show their support.
Members of Congress made speeches on the House floor in support of Lay and Freeman, including Cong. Randy Forbes, the Chair of the bipartisan Congressional Prayer Caucus. In his speech Forbes warned that this case represents what might be coming as a result of the ACLU's agenda: "Make no mistake, there will come a day when the speaker of this house will be hauled into federal court and threatened with jail because she dares to stand at that podium where you stand tonight and ask the chaplain to start our day with the prayer." (transcript)
Other members, including Cong. Mike McIntyre, Co- Chair, and Cong. Jeff Miller, whose district includes Santa Rosa County, along with more than 61 members of Congress, sent a letter of support to Lay, Freeman and Michele Winkler, whom Liberty Counsel successfully defended two weeks ago on civil contempt charges. 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."
Mathew D. Staver, Founder of Liberty Counsel and Dean of Liberty University School of Law, commented: "It is ridiculous that these men even had to think twice about blessing a meal. To criminalize the prayer conflicts with our Nation's founding and guiding principles and goes directly against our constitutionally protected rights. It is fitting that on National Constitution Day, our religious freedoms are preserved so that people -- regardless of their employment -- are free to say a meal blessing. The Constitution was birthed in the bosom of prayer. When the Constitutional Convention had fractured and the dream of the United States began to fade, Benjamin Franklin delivered his famous speech where he called his colleagues to prayer. After recessing for a three- day prayer meeting, they convened and the Constitution was born. Prayer remains alive and well in America, but we cannot take it for granted."