By Fr. George Welzbacher
August 30, 2009
One is tempted to ask: Is this Albania? Albania, that is to say, back in the day, under its Communist boss, Enver Hoxha? When making the sign of the cross in public could land you in prison for years? No, what we're talking about is the U.S.A., in the little town of Milton, in Florida's Panhandle County of Santa Rosa, in the summer of 2009, where a capricious prosecution is making life painful for some public high school educators-a principal, an athletic director, and a clerical assistant-in a typical American public school-Milton's Pace High School-under the baleful eye of the ACLU. The educators' crime? Contributing through bad example to the poisoning of the minds of the young. How? By sponsoring the recitation of a prayer. Without further comment may I share with you here a sobering report from Staff Writer Julia Duin of The Washington Times (the National Edition) for August 17th.
* * * * *Principal's Criminal Prayer Case Stirs Protests in Florida
By Julia Duin: The Washington Times, August 17, 2009
Students, teachers and local pastors are protesting over a court case involving a northern Florida high school principal and an athletic director who are facing criminal charges and up to six months in jail over their offer of a mealtime prayer.
There have been yard signs, T-shirts and a mass student protest during graduation ceremonies this spring on behalf of Pace High School Principal Frank Lay and school athletic director Robert Freeman, who will go on trial September 17 at a FEDERAL DISTRICT COURT in Pensacola for breaching the conditions of a lawsuit settlement reached last year with the American Civil Liberties Union.
"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," said Mathew Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, the Orlando-based legal group that is defending the two school officials.
An ACLU official said the school district has allowed "flagrant" violations of the First Amendment for years.
'The defendants ALL ADMITTED WRONGDOING", said Daniel Mach, director of its [the ACLU's] freedom of religion program [perhaps more accurately to be referred to as "the freedom FROM religion" program]: "For example, the Pace High School teachers' handbook asks teachers to embrace every opportunity to inculcate, by precept and example, the practice of every Christian virtue [Shocking, simply shocking! And just THINK what THAT sort of thing could lead to!]."" The fight involving the ACLU, the school district and several devout Christian employees began last August when the ACLU sued Santa Rosa County Schools on behalf of two students who had complained privately to the group's Florida affiliate, claiming some teachers and administrators were allowing prayers at school events such as graduations, orchestrating separate religiously themed graduation services, and "proselytizing" students during class and after school.
In January, the Santa Rosa County School District settled out of court with the ACLU, agreeing to several things, including a provision to bar all school employees from promoting or sponsoring prayers during school-sponsored events; holding school events at church venues when a secular alternative was available; or promoting their religious beliefs or attempting to convert students in class or during school-sponsored events.
Mr. Slaver said 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.
"SHE WAS THE FIRST STUDENT BODY PRESIDENT IN 33 YEARS WHO WAS NOT ALLOWED TO SPEAK," he said.
In response, many members of the 300-plus-member student body taped crosses to their mortarboards and stood for an impromptu recitation of the Lord's Prayer during the ceremony. [Young people nowadays, just what are they coming to!]
Mr. Mach responded, "We believe students have the constitutional right to pray voluntarily in public or private. Constitutional problems arise only when public school officials promote or endorse PRAYER or specific religious views."
The criminal charges, which carry up to a $5,000 fine and a six-month jail term, originated with a January 28 incident in which Mr. Lay, a deacon at a local Baptist church, asked Mr. Freeman to offer mealtime prayers at a luncheon for school employees and booster-club members who had helped with a school field-house project. Mr. Staver said no students were present at the event, which was held on school property but after school hours. He wasn't thinking he was violating an order," he said. "Neither did the athletic director. He was asked to pray and so he did."
Mr. Mach said the event was during the school day and that Mr. Lay, the school's principal, has said in writing that students were present. Decisions about the religious upbringing of children should be left in the hands of parents, not school officials," he said. As to whether prayer constitutes "religious upbringing," he said, "If school officials were promoting non-majority faiths and religious viewpoints, I suspect there'd be an uproar."
The ACLU brought the matter to the attention of U.S. District Court Judge M. Case Rodgers, who issued a contempt orderfor the two men.
Meanwhile members of the small community of Milton, Florida, where Pace High School is located, have contributed more than $10,000 toward a legal defense fund for the defendants.
Anti-ACLU T-shirts are also being sold and the proceeds donated.
Judge Rodgers' order also included Michelle Winkler, a clerical assistant who was attending a school district event in February with other school employees at a local naval base. There she asked her husband to offer a blessing for a meal, says the ACLU, adding that students were present, and LED THE PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE. [Good heavens! er, I mean, Great Scot!]
"She didn't do the blessing; she asked somebody to do it," Mr. Staver said. "The ACLU is sending people to school to monitor things happening on campus and to see if there is anything encouraging religious activity, then running to the court if they see anything."
Her trial, which could result in a fine, is scheduted for August 21.
* * * * *
The following was written by Ben Stein and recited by him on CBS Sunday Morning Commentary.
I am a Jew, and every single one of any ancestors was Jewish. And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled trees, Christmas trees. I don't feel threatened. I don't feel discriminated against. That's what they are, Christmas trees.
It doesn't bother me a bit when people say, 'Merry Christmas' to me. I don't think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn't bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu ... If people want a creche it's just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away.
I don't like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don't think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians. I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period. I have no idea where the concept came from, that America is explicitly atheist country. I can't find it in the Constitution and I don't like it being shoved down my throat.
Or maybe I can put it another way: Where did the idea come from that we should worship celebrities and we aren't allowed to worship God as we understand Him? I guess that's a sign that I'm getting old, too. But there are a lot of us who are wondering where these celebrities came from and where the America we knew went to.
In light of the many jokes we send to one another for a laugh, this is a little different. This is not intended to be a joke, it's not funny, it's intended to get you thinking.
Billy Graham's daughter was interviewed on the Early Show and Jane Clayson asked her 'How could God let something like this happen?' (regarding Hurricane Katrina). Anne Graham gave an extremely profound and insightful response. She said, 'I believe God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we've been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and get out of our lives. And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed out. How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us alone?'
In light of recent events ... Terrorists attack, school shootings, etc. I think it started when Madeline Murray O'Hare (she was murdered, her body found a few years ago) complained she didn't want prayer in our schools, and we said OK. Then someone said you better not read the Bible in school. The Bible says thou shall not kill, thou shalt not steal, and love your neighbor as yourself. And we said OK.
Then Dr. Benjamin Spock said we shouldn't spank our children when they misbehave, because their little personalities would be warped and we might damage their self-esteem (Dr. Spock's son committed suicide). We said an expert should know what he's talking about. And we said okay.
Now we're asking ourselves why our children have no conscience, why they don't know right from wrong, and why it doenn't bother them to kill strangers, their classmates, and themselves.
Probably, if we think about it long and hard enough, we can figure it out. I think it has a great deal to do with 'WE REAP WHAT WE SOW!'
Funny how simple it is for people to trash God and then wonder why the world's going to hell. Funny how we believe what the newspapers say, but question what the Bible says. Funny how you can send 'jokes through e-mail and they spread like wildfire, but when you start sending messages regarding the Lord, people think twice about sharing. Funny how lewd, crude, vulgar and obscene articles pass freely through cyberspace, but public discussion of God is suppressed in the school and workplace.
Are you laughing yet?
Funny how when you forward this message, you will not send it to many on your address list because you're not sure what they believe, or what they will think of you for sending it.
Funny how we can be more worried about what other people think of us than what God thinks of us.
Pass it on if you think it has merit.
If not, then just discard it ... no one will know you did. But if you discard this thought process, don't sit back and complain about what bad shape the world is in.
My Best Regards, Honestly and respectfully, Ben Stein.