The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Will Matthews, ACLU National, (212) 549-2582 or 2666;
Alexandra Bassil, ACLU of Florida, (786) 363-2737;

ACLU Files Lawsuit To Protect Religious Freedom Of Florida High School Students

Santa Rosa County School Officials Misuse Public Positions To Promote Their Religious Viewpoints


Rosa County school officials are using their governmental positions to
promote their personal religious beliefs in public schools, according
to a lawsuit filed today on behalf of two Pace High School students by
the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and the national ACLU.

The lawsuit reveals a repeated
pattern by school officials - including Santa Rosa County School Board
members and Pace High School Principal H. Frank Lay - of promoting and
endorsing prayers at graduation ceremonies and other school events, of
sponsoring religious ceremonies and holding official school events at

"Parents, not the public schools,
should be responsible for deciding whether their children receive
religious education," said Benjamin Stevenson, staff attorney with the
ACLU of Florida's Northwest Region office. "Religious freedom is eroded
when the government endorses any particular religious viewpoint."

According to the lawsuit, filed in
U.S. District Court for the Northern district of Florida, 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
also mix their responsibilities as public officials with their personal
religious beliefs by planning baccalaureates, helping to decide the
place of worship at which they would be held and leading prayers with
students. Additionally, school officials have interjected their own
religious perspectives at elementary school graduations, a middle
school Christmas concert, and high school football and cheerleading

The lawsuit also documents how
teachers and staff at Pace High School preach about "judgment day with
the Lord" and offer Bible readings and biblical interpretations during
student meetings. While such activities are constitutionally protected
at private schools and in religious communities, the government should
not be involved in making such decisions.

"The government should not be in the
business of deciding which religions to promote," said Daniel Mach,
Director of Litigation for the ACLU's Program on Freedom of Religion
and Belief. "Individuals, families and religious communities should be
free to make their own decisions about religion."

A copy of the lawsuit can be found online at:

Additional information about the ACLU's Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief can be found online at:

The American Civil Liberties Union was founded in 1920 and is our nation's guardian of liberty. The ACLU works in the courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.

(212) 549-2666