ACLU to defend religious freedoms in Florida

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a case against the School Board for Santa Rosa County School District, Florida in the U.S. District Court for the Northern district of Florida, charging that school officials of Pace High School and the School Board have abused their position to promote their religious beliefs.  (Press release).

Among the complaints listed are:

  • Graduation ceremonies during the past five years at Central, Jay, Milton, Navarre and Pace High Schools have included prayers by students – often members of groups like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes or the Christian World Order
  • The graduation ceremonies at Santa Rosa Adult School and Santa Rosa Learning Academy also have included prayers.
  • School administrators and teachers planning baccalaureates, helping to decide the place of worship at which they would be held and leading prayers with students.
  • School officials have interjected their own religious perspectives at elementary school graduations, a middle school Christmas concert, and high school football and cheerleading banquets.
  • Teachers and staff at Pace High School preach about “judgment day with the Lord” and offer Bible readings and biblical interpretations during student meetings.

The full text of the complaint is available here.

According to an article in the Pensacola News Journal today, ACLU reports that it put the school board on notice in 2006.

An attorney with the local branch of ACLU reports: “We sent a number of letters and exchanged telephone calls to avoid litigation.  After the School Board failed to bring the district in line with the Constitution and American values by ending the practice of school officials using their official positions to promote their religion, we had to act.”

A spokesman for the School Board is reported as saying: “There was a court case where (having a moment of silence) was upheld as constitutional.  It is also standard practice any prayer has to be voluntary and student-led.”

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