Saturday, 16 May 2009


School officials now are prohibited from promoting or endorsing prayers during school functions and from organizing school functions at religious venues. The consent decree must be distributed to all employees.
"The court has ensured that decisions about religion will be left in the hands of families and faith communities and not public school officials," said Benjamin Stevenson, an American Civil Liberties Union of Florida attorney based in Pensacola.
The ACLU and ACLU of Florida sued the district in August on behalf of two unnamed Pace High School students. The students claimed school officials regularly promoted religion and led prayers at school events.
District officials admitted the allegations. Board members signed a consent decree in March that listed steps the district will take to end the violations.
School Board Chairman Ed Gray said they intend to abide by the judge's order.
"We think we can still have an open door for all groups to use the schools. The law provides for that," he said. "But, we will make sure we do not infringe upon the religious rights of any student."
Religious freedom is best promoted when the government stays out of religion, Stevenson said.
"Now, students and their families can feel comfortable holding and expressing their own religious beliefs, knowing that school officials will no longer impose their particular religious beliefs on students at school," he said. "This is a truly victorious day for the Constitution and for religious freedom in Florida."
The Rev. Matt Cotten, minister of education and outreach at Pine Terrace Baptist Church in Milton, said he is not surprised a judge would sign the order.
"The representation for the county failed to defend our rights well," he said. "The wording is sufficiently convoluted to distract from the intent of the Constitution while appearing not to infringe upon our rights."
Today, Cotten plans to have the Rally for Education at Milton High School.
"I believe in everyone's right to worship, pray, not worship or not pray," he said. "I stand, and will continue to stand, for freedom."
The rally can be on Milton High's grounds because it is not sponsored by the school or school system representatives and is on a Saturday, district officials said.