The latest kerfuffle involving religion in schools comes to us from Clay County in a suburb of Jacksonville. A school principal is being sued by an assistant principal over what the plaintiff refers to as state-sponsored religion.
Linda Turner is the principal at Bannerman Learning Center in Green Cove Springs. She is being sued, along with the school district, for sending religious and political notes from her school email account. The plaintiff, Patrick Capriola, says that while he is religious, it’s not proper for people in public employment to promote such issues.
At the same time, the district is dealing with a separate complaint over morning prayers being led around an elementary school flagpole by a church pastor. That seems to have been resolved with the pastor agreeing to move his impromptu assemblies off campus.
On the other side of North Florida in Pensacola, a highly publicized case pitting the ACLU against two high school administrators officially ended last summer after two years of back and forth. Pace High School Principal Frank Lay and school athletic director Robert Freeman were cleared of criminal contempt charges involving a mealtime prayer. The Liberty Counsel, in turn, sued the district over the right to have religious freedom during school hours.
Eventually, the Liberty Counsel and the ACLU announced a settlement enabling teachers in Santa Rosa County to pray during their daily school breaks, pray during school events in a nonofficial capacity, and even have a Bible in the classroom. Students would not be punished for praying in school or giving religious answers in their homework.
Florida lawmakers responded to the controversy with legislation giving individuals freedom of religious expression in school. It was signed into law last year by Governor Charlie Crist.
More legislation is now up for consideration that would allow school boards to regulate prayer at school events.
But the matter of those religious emails from a Clay County principal is up to a court to decide. The Clay County School Board plans to meet after the first of the year to workshop what’s acceptable when it comes to praying in school.