The Religious Right is all fired up over two school officials from Pace High School in Santa Rosa county, Florida, who may go to jail because they led students in prayer, thus defying a consent decree they’d agreed to abide by (as CNN reports):

Two Florida school administrators face contempt charges and possible prison time for saying a prayer at a school luncheon.

Frank Lay, principal of Pace High School, and Athletic Director Robert Freeman are accused of violating a consent decree banning employees of Santa Rosa County schools from endorsing religion.

They face a non-jury trial September 17 before U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers. The statute under which they are charged carries a maximum penalty of up to six months in prison, subject to sentencing guidelines.

The consent decree had been the negotiated conclusion to an earlier case the school was involved in:

The ACLU filed suit last year against the district on behalf of two Pace students who alleged that “school officials regularly promoted religion and led prayers at school events,” according to an ACLU statement.

Both parties approved the consent decree put in place January 9, under which district and school officials are “permanently prohibited from promoting, advancing, endorsing, participating in or causing prayers during or in conjunction with school events,” the ACLU said.

Sounds like a simple agreement … but as it turns out, they could not manage to abide by it:

On January 28, “Lay asked Freeman to offer a prayer of blessing during a school-day luncheon for the dedication of a new fieldhouse at Pace High School,” according to court documents. “Freeman complied with the request and offered the prayer at the event. It appears this was a school-sponsored event attended by students, faculty and community members.”

Their claim that this event included “consenting adults” and thus did not fall under the consent decree, which dealt with how the school handled its students, not adults. However, it turns out that students were present at the event, and they admitted it:

In a February 4 letter to district Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick in which Lay acknowledged the incident, he said that although past football booster club members “and other adults associated with the school system” were at the luncheon, culinary class students were in charge of food preparation and serving.

So he knew he was in violation of the consent decree.

Of course, the Religious Right is furious about this, and — as is usual for them — misrepresenting the situation. They say the two are being sent to jail for praying on the orders of the ACLU.

But that is not true.

First, they haven’t been jailed yet, and they may not be. Second, the ACLU hasn’t asked for them to be jailed, as CNN goes on to explain:

The ACLU did not request the criminal contempt charges against Lay and Freeman, he said; the judge initiated them after seeing a reference to the incident in a motion. …

“We certainly never suggested that anyone go to jail,” [Glen] Katon [of the Florida ACLU] said.

Third, they aren’t in jeopardy of jail merely because they prayed; they’re in jeopardy because they knowingly violated a court-approved consent decree, and thus are in contempt of court.

It really is just that simple. I’m not sure how or why they believe there’s a religious exception to having to obey negotiated consent decrees … but apparently these folks think there is one.

If they were ethical people, though, they’d have taken responsibility for their wrongdoing, wouldn’t be purposely misrepresenting the situation, and accept the punishment that goes along with it.

But we all know that religionists don’t possess the integrity to do that.

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