Woman accused of contempt for dinner blessing

By WND Staff

A Florida school district worker whose husband read a prayer at a private banquet has been cleared of contempt accusations brought by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The case arose after the Santa Rosa County School District in January agreed to eliminate all religious activity, including prayer, at school-sanctioned events.

However, district worker Michelle Winkler was at a private banquet held at a Naval base to honor non-instructional school district employees and her husband read a brief blessing prior to the meal, according to reports of the case.

The ACLU alleged that subjected her to contempt charges.

Two other district employees also are facing charges for a similar but separate incident.

Winkler, a clerical assistant for the district who was represented by Liberty Counsel’s Senior Litigation Counsel Horatio Mihet and David Corry, was examined during a recent seven-hour hearing in federal court.

Eventually, District Judge Casey Rodgers found that Winkler’s husband’s prayer at a voluntary gathering outside of school did not violate any court order.

Liberty Counsel founder Mathew D. Staver expressed relief over the victory but frustration over the ACLU’s actions.

“The wheels came off the ACLU’s steamroller. While we are pleased with the ruling, we are saddened that a wonderful woman had to spend a day in court, with the ACLU’s crosshairs aimed at her back. Prayer is neither contemptuous nor criminal. It is outrageous that the ACLU sought civil contempt charges against an outstanding woman whose husband prayed a beautiful prayer at a privately sponsored event held off campus. The ACLU needs to take a good dose of the First Amendment and call us in the morning,” he said.

The fight, however, remains far from over.

Principal Frank Lay

On Sept. 17, Liberty Counsel is scheduled to return to court to defend Principal Frank Lay and Robert Freeman, the athletic director, from charges of criminal contempt for praying over a meal at an event for private contributors to the school’s athletic program.

Staver will defend Lay and Freeman. According to FoxNews.com both school officials are at risk of being given jail time and having their retirement savings revoked by the state.

Accusations against the two stem from a blessing of a meal at a separate luncheon to honor private contributors to the athletic program, LC said.

The war against the school employees erupted when the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the district and Rodgers issued a broadly worded injunction regarding prayer and religious activities at school.

The event Winkler attended, and for which she was charged, was a privately funded event off campus after school hours to honor district workers. She was accompanied by her husband, who read a prayer blessing.

WND reported earlier when members of the 2009 graduating class at Florida’s Pace High School expressed their objections to the ACLU restrictions on statements of religious faith at their school by rising up en masse at their ceremony and reciting the Lord’s Prayer.

Nearly 400 graduating seniors at Pace, a Santa Rosa County school, stood up at their graduation, according to Staver. Parents, family and friends joined in the recitation, and applauded the students when they were finished, Staver told WND.

“Many of the students also painted crosses on their graduation caps to make a statement of faith,” the organization reported.

“Neither students nor teachers shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate,” said Staver, who also is dean of Liberty University School of Law. “The students at Pace High School refused to remain silent and were not about to be bullied by the ACLU.

“Schools are not religion-free zones, and any attempt to make them so is unconstitutional,” he said.

Staver said class members, furious with the ACLU for hijacking their free speech rights, assembled the plan on their own. As soon as Lay asked everyone to be seated for the graduation ceremony, the graduating seniors remained standing and recited the Lord’s Prayer.