“‘God bless you’ is no longer a dirty word in Santa Rosa County,” said Liberty Counsel lawyer Harry Mihet, to the enthusiastic crowd of nearly 600 gathered at the Pace Assembly Ministry church. The July 6th rally, which had another 5,500 people listening in on the Internet was “punctuated by prayer, music and passionate speeches,” according to the Florida Baptist Witness.
The event was originally scheduled as a prayer meeting for an impending court date, but turned into “a huge celebration” when it was announced that an agreement had been reached between the ACLU and the Santa Rosa School District. The agreement settled a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of 24 students, teachers, parents and community members who challenged a Consent Decree between the district and the ACLU. The suit had been filed by Liberty Counsel—a non-profit that provides pro-bono assistance in religious liberty cases.
In October 2009, the Coral Ridge Hour (now known as Truth That Transforms) featured an interview with attorney Mat Staver, founder and president of Liberty Counsel. Giving some background on the case, Staver explained that in 2008 the ACLU announced that it had almost reached its goal of raising $300 million—in addition to its annual budget of between $70 – $100 million.
“With this new $300 million war chest they said they were going to put more resources on the ground in several key states, including Florida.” Soon after, the ACLU filed suit against the Santa Rosa County School District. According to Staver, their charge was that “some of the school officials were endorsing religion.”
The Coral Ridge Hour also interviewed Dr. Ted Traylor, the pastor of high school administrator Frank Lay, who was charged with criminal contempt as a consequence of the Consent Decree. Lay had asked the school athletic coach, Robert Freeman, to offer a prayer before a school booster luncheon. In Dr. Traylor’s view, when the ACLU filed its suit, “the school officials, intimidated by the cost of standing against the ACLU agreed to sign a Consent Decree in order to avoid fighting the ACLU.”
That Consent Decree hung like an albatross around the necks of the school district officials, teachers and students, prohibiting them from acting according to their personal faith and beliefs when they were on school property or involved in any school events. With the decree in place, it appeared that the ACLU had accomplished its purposes.
As Alan Sears, president of the Alliance Defense Fund, explained in an interview with FrontPage Magazine, “The ACLU desires a secular, faithless America where all memory of faith traditions and religion are absent from the public square, morals are relative, and where parental rights, religious freedom and the sanctity of human life…are nearly non-existent.”
Like Liberty Counsel, the Alliance Defense Fund, which Dr. D. James Kennedy joined others in founding, is dedicated to seeing that the ACLU’s secular vision for America does not become reality. But, as Mr. Sears says, “This is the America we will get unless we stand up to the ACLU.”
“The ACLU has achieved many of its victories,” Sears notes, “because no one showed up in the courtroom – or those who did show up to oppose them were not those who cared most about the outcomes or were under funded and ill-prepared.”
But in Santa Rosa County, Liberty Counsel showed up and opposed the ACLU’s efforts to steam-roller over the religious liberties of school district officials, teachers and students. The new agreement, which has now been approved by the Santa Rosa County School Board, has put a roadblock in the path of the ACLU, and the residents of the county are celebrating their victory.
As Liberty Counsel attorney Mihet spoke at the July 6th rally, he noted that he is the son of an immigrant pastor “who survived the rigors of former communist Romania.” Therefore, he said, the fight for religious freedom in Santa Rosa County was personally significant to him. “In God we trust. In God we still trust. Tonight we are going to celebrate our country, our freedom, but most importantly—the freedom in Santa Rosa County Florida,” proclaimed Mihet jubilantly.
According to the ACLU, the Santa Rosa County School District shouldn’t be celebrating. In its press release, the self-proclaimed “guardian” of liberty stated that the agreement reached in early July resulted in “strengthening and clarifying the 2009 Consent Decree agreement that ended school sponsored religious activities by the district and its employees.”
Liberty Counsel, however, declared, “The Consent Decree that led to criminal indictments against school employees for prayer and banned ‘God Bless’ in Santa Rosa County schools will now be gutted and revised. The amended Consent Decree will restore dozens of constitutional religious freedoms that were previously denied.”
We can join the citizens of Santa Rosa County in celebrating their restored religious freedoms and their independence from the ACLU’s cramped concept of “freedom.”