That's precisely the threat faced by a principal, an athletic director, and a clerk employed by Pace High School in Milton, Florida. Their crimes? According to a story in the Washington Times, Principal Frank Lay asked school athletic director Robert Freeman to offer a prayer at a lunch for school employees and booster-club members who had helped with a school field-house project. A month later Michelle Winkler, a clerical assistant who was attending a school district event with other school employees at a local naval base, asked her husband--who is not a school employee--to offer a blessing for a meal served during the event. In both instances, some students may have been present.
How can saying or asking a prayer over a meal--especially in America--be a crime? In this case, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had sued the Santa Rosa County school district on behalf of two students who claimed that some teachers and administrators were allowing prayers at school events such as graduations, among other expressions of religious belief. The district settled out of court with the ACLU, agreeing to a court order barring school employees from promoting or sponsoring prayers during school-sponsored events or otherwise promoting their religious beliefs. According to the school employees' attorney Mathew Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, "the ACLU [was] sending people to school to monitor things happening on campus and see if there is anything encouraging religious activity, then running to the court if they see anything." Apparently they discovered the prayer-mongering of Lay, Freeman, and Winkler and ratted on them to U.S. District Court Judge M. Casey Rodgers, who issued a contempt order for all three. If found guilty of contempt of the court's settlement order with the ACLU, they could be fined up to $5,000 and jailed up to six months. Ms. Winkler's hearing is set for August 21st, and Lay and Freeman go before the court on September 17th.
"I have been defending religious freedom issues for 22 years, and I've never had to defend somebody who has been charged criminally for praying," Mr. Staver observed.
That public school employees could be criminally prosecuted for asking a blessing on food, even at a non-student event, shows the utter depths to which we have sunk as a nation. Did you ever think you'd live to see the day when you could be sent to jail for praying--in America? When that can happen, Satan is truly in power, and the darkness of the End Times is surely upon us. And remember, if it can be done to these folks, it can be done to you, if you have the temerity to utter anything reflecting your faith in a public venue which the ACLU thinks is pristine secular territory off limits to religious expression.
This criminal ban isn't limited to prayers consciously directed at students and intended to influence their minds. Almost certainly it never occurred to the defendants in this case that they were breaking the law; the blessings asked for were clearly natural, spontaneous expressions of simple faith by people who always do this at home before a meal. Nor was the court's order against religious expression at Pace High School limited to prayers by school employees: according to the Times story, "the district also agreed to forbid senior class President Mary Allen from speaking at the school's May 30 graduation ceremony on the chance that the young woman, a known Christian, might say something religious." Indeed, how could law-abiding school officials allow a known Christian (kind of like a known pedophile, except that even they have legal rights) an opportunity to speak in public? God knows--oops, who knows--what she might say?
Fortunately, Pace High students and the local community aren't taking this lying down. The Times story notes that many members of the student body taped crosses to their mortarboards and stood for an impromptu recitation of the Lord's Prayer during their graduation ceremony this past May. Here's some video coverage of the "free speech" portion of this controversy (including the demonstration):
Also, people from all over the United States and even in foreign countries have donated more than $13,000 to the school employees' legal defense fund. But no one, including public school employees, should have to worry about having a "legal defense fund" if they do something so innocuous as ask for a blessing on food.
Here is all that the United States Constitution has to say on this subject:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . .That's right, our Constitution says nothing about public school districts--only about Congress. And all it says to any ordinary, common-sense person is that Congress may not establish an official religion (as Henry VIII did in the 1500s by setting up the Church of England). The phrase "separation of church and state" likewise appears nowhere in the Constitution, but is a concept invented by the federal Supreme Court. The Constitution does, just happenstantially, say something negative about "prohibiting the free exercise" of religion . . .
Neither I, nor any right-thinking person, desires that a particular religious creed be imposed or even affirmatively espoused and taught by public school officials to young students. Up to a point, "separating church and state", as a general POLICY, may be a wise approach in many contexts. But it is clearly being taken by a small minority of faith-haters far beyond the borders of necessity into the realm of the absurd, and toward a starkly atheist vision of America in which any reference to a Higher Being is forbidden and rigorously scrubbed out of public discourse. This is supposedly all to protect someone's freedom of choice not to have a faith, but it seems that theirs is the only "choice" allowed. And why is it always Christians whose "free exercise" of faith is restricted for the sake of "separating church and state"? Has the ACLU led a crusade against taxpayer-funded accommodation of Muslim religious practices (e.g., footwashing basins) in schools and other public facilities?
Threatening school personnel with jail for a casual invocation of God's grace upon a meal is nothing but a legally-sanctioned pogrom against people of faith. Is a new Kristallnacht looming for Christians, as it was for Jews in Germany in 1938? I fear that it is (if you doubt it, read some of the venomous anti-religious comments to the video above here), and that the ACLU are the new Brownshirts.