In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free,
While God is marching on!


Monday, August 31, 2009

One Victory for Religious Liberty

A couple of weeks ago I reported on the case of three public school employees at Pace High School in Milton, Florida, who were being hauled before U.S. District Court Judge M. Casey Rodgers by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on contempt-of-court charges for allegedly violating the judge's standing order in an ACLU lawsuit barring school personnel from promoting or sponsoring prayers during school-sponsored events or otherwise promoting their religious beliefs. The contempt charges were based on the defendants' conduct in asking for and saying a prayer at two separate school-related events, one off campus involving clerk Michelle Winkler--who asked her non-school-employee husband to to read a prayer blessing that Mrs. Winkler had written for the noninstructional employees of the school district being honored at the event--and one on campus at a lunch for school employees and booster-club members, where Principal Frank Lay asked school athletic director Robert Freeman to offer a prayer before the meal.

I'm happy to report that after a 7-and-a half hour hearing before Judge Rodgers on August 24, Ms. Winkler was cleared of the civil contempt charge against her. The judge concluded that a prayer offered by Mrs. Winkler’s husband, at a voluntary gathering outside of school, did not violate the court’s order. In particular, the judge ruled that Winkler was not one of the parties in the original lawsuit against the school district, and that she did not know that the event where she asked her husband to pray was covered by the settlement in the ACLU lawsuit.

A news report detailing some evidence presented at the hearing suggests that Mrs. Wheeler may have taken a conscious chance on the "legality" of her action in having her prayer read at the event, after school district officials asked her not to include a prayer in her remarks and assumed that she would withdraw from speaking if she could not offer a prayer. Mrs. Winkler reportedly replied in an email that “I’m still on, and be unfearful of the current events, with your ‘off the record’ permission, I would like to use the prayer that I had prayed about and received from God and will suffer whatever consequences for . . . I cannot be silent as God is my very life and Christ is who I am.” According to the story, this is the prayer recited by Mr. Winkler (and if I may say so, it's beautiful and touching):
I love the way You have created each of us with a purpose which includes the need to serve one another in ways that bring encouragement and inspire each of us to help one another to excel.
Tonight we celebrate some of those who are an inspiration to us and in whose deeds we have been blessed.
There is a Tree (Christ), on which grows the fruits of life: love joy and peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.
May we each eat freely from that tree and thereby extend that same grace and mercy to one another as You have faithfully committed Yourself of lavish on us.
Thank You, Father God - in Jesus’ holy and precious name - Amen.
In light of the foregoing, Judge Rodgers may have bent backwards, at least a little, to reach the conclusion she did. If the report above is correct, Mrs. Winkler's conduct seems sufficiently conscious and overt that it would have violated the settlement order had it occurred on school grounds during school hours, with students present. That the judge determined the order inapplicable to Ms. Winkler and the event where the prayer was given, despite the deliberate expression of her Christian faith on that occasion, suggests to me that the judge was careful not to let the order impinge on school personnel's personal religious liberty more than strictly necessary to serve the order's purpose.

It's encouraging to see judicial restraint exercised in a case like this. It's bad enough that an organization of arrogant, self-serving secularist fanatics like the ACLU, which does not represent the values this country was founded on nor those of ordinary Americans, is able to bully and threaten school employees and dictate their own terms to public school districts. In Mrs. Winkler's case, they overreached and had their hands slapped, ever so gently. But two victims remain in their cross-hairs. Principal Lay and Athletic Director Freeman must face the court on September 17 on charges of criminal contempt--for which they could be jailed and fined for invoking the name of God on school grounds during school hours, while some students may have been present. We can only pray--silently, if we happened to be public school employees--that Judge Rodgers will, or can, similarly restrain the atheo-fascists in their case.

1 comment:

It's A Wonderful said...

I am hoping that one day Christians will stand up as one and put an end to all this nonsense. These law suits against prayer is the beginning of Christian persecution in this country. One day Christians will have to stand up in the ring and fight the animals that seek to destroy our beliefs and our God.