Lay and Freeman: Not Guilty

Last week marked the trial of Frank Lay and Robert Freeman, the two Pace High School faculty members facing criminal contempt charges for violating a “consent decree” which prohibits school employees from leading in prayer at school functions. I wrote a post last week on the original ACLU lawsuit that resulted in the consent decree being issued, which in turn precipitated the charges against Lay and Freeman. I am posting on this issue mainly because a reader asked me to comment on these things in light of a post titled “Symbols: Anarchy.”

First, Lay and Freeman were found not guilty. However, this does not change the consent decree nor does it mean that continued violations of the consent decree will go unpunished—the judge made this point clear. There are a couple of points I would like to address in this whole scenario. (1) Was Frank Lay wrong for his actions? (2) Should Christian school employees submit to the consent decree? (3) Is the consent decree a good thing?

Was Frank Lay wrong for his actions? This is a little difficult to answer. Not because I am floundering on the moral aspect, but because it is difficult to truly know what Frank Lay was thinking when he asked Robert Freeman to offer the prayer. This was the crux of the matter in the trial as well—did he willfully and intentionally violate the consent decree? If Lay did so purposefully, then he was in the wrong. Now, before anyone thinks I am saying that Christians should allow the government to suppress the practice of our religion, you should read my previous post on this matter(see link above). If Lay did not purposefully violate the consent decree, then he has learned a pricey lesson. What I found extremely interesting and what I have been saying all along (in my personal life), is that Frank Lay would most likely be found not guilty because it was a criminal case. The punishment simply would not fit the crime. However, if this was tried as a civil case, then I think Frank Lay would have been found guilty by the judge. In fact, the local news anchor reported this very fact; almost inadvertently I believe. His comment occurs around the 6:45 minute mark in the video at the end of this post.

Should Christian school employees submit to the consent decree? I believe that as long as they are at work and acting in the capacity of a school employee, they should abide by the decree. I do not believe they should refuse to live according to their Christian morals, answer questions of students from a biblical worldview, or share their beliefs with those students who ask them. But this strikes back at my last post, would Christians want a Muslim teacher offering up Islamic prayers over their children? Absolutely not. I’m a Christian and a parent and I have no shame in admitting that I don’t want a teacher of another faith leading my child in prayer. We too often complain about double standards in our society (standards that discriminate against the Christian religion and not other religions) and now we are asking for a double standard, whether we realize it or not. This leads right into the third point.

Is the consent decree a good thing? I believe this is a yes and no answer. I think in the overall aspect, the consent decree is a good thing. I want it to protect students from faculty leading them in religious practices. However, the consent decree seems to go too far the other direction. It almost begins to infringe upon the rights of the faculty because some of the restrictions really begin to apply under the individuals’ own time when they are not acting as faculty. This is where the trouble with enforcing this is going to be problematic. When is Frank Lay not the principal of Pace High School? Too many people in the community know that he is the principal. Imagine that he is having a birthday party at his home for his child and that child invites friends over (who are students at Pace High School) to celebrate. Is Frank allowed to pray in his own home or does he have to refrain from practicing his faith because students are there? This is where the decree needs some clarity and needs to be challenged—but it needs to be challenged legally and not by first violating it and putting community pressure on the judge and jury hearing the case.

I also think the consent decree and the ACLU lawsuit has been good for the community in an overall sense. The students are living out their faith more openly and sharing it more actively than they have in some years. It has also united much of the Christian community. A fresh breath of life has come to the Christian community of Santa Rosa County. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the months and years to come.

What do you think, was Frank Lay wrong for his actions? Is the consent decree a good or bad thing? Why?
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