Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Laying Down the Puritan Law

It seems Pace, Florida, High School principal Frank Lay has 'layed' down the law to The Law. Almost as foolishly, he's now openly flouting the directives of the Santa Rosa School Board.

Today's PNJ coverage by Carmen Paige sacrifices coherency for sensationalism, but if you've been paying attention, nevertheless the picture is clear. In summary --
  • Pace High School for decades has promoted its own brand of 'Christianity' with daily prayers over the loudspeakers and various school-sponsored "Christian" class projects, school rallies, etc. If you doubt it, just ask any of the scores, if not hundreds, of University of West Florida education majors who have been assigned to Pace over the years for their teaching practicums. We know. We have.
  • After a lawsuit was filed accusing the publicly-financed high school of violating the First Amendment's establishment clause, the school district's governing board wisely consented to entry of a judgment (rather than fight a losing battle and wind up paying as much as a million dollars in lawyers' fees for both sides after they lost).
  • The school board unequivocally promised to stop the plainly unconstitutional conduct at the high school, and U.S. District Judge Casey Rogers duly entered a Consent Degree, making it binding.
  • Back in January, apparently with the explicit approval of high school principal Lay, low-level school clerk Michelle Winkler colluded with her husband to resume old habits by having him offer a 'Christian' prayer at an official school function. Principal Lay compounded things by directing the school's athletic director to offer a prayer at a fund-raising luncheon.
  • Lay and Winkler now face contempt of court charges. They have been summoned to appear before the court on June 25.
  • Meanwhile, Pace High reportedly 'Layed' plans to have student speakers at its graduation ceremony selected on the basis of "popularity" not merit. (That tells you just about everything you need to know about Pace High School.)
  • Concerned, as it well ought to be, that the "popularity" poll was influenced by certain teachers and other school officials who have a religious agenda, school district officials "have decided not to let any student speak at graduation whose election may have been influenced by a teacher or student government." Instead, the board ordered that speakers be chosen "on a neutral basis because of their grade-point average."
  • As if to underscore his disregard for the law, last night principal Lay appeared before "more than 700 people" at a politico-religious rally staged at the Pace "Assembly of God" church. Lay vowed, "No way are we going to back down, back off, lay down or roll over."
That may be so. But if he keeps to his word, then what principal Frank Lay is going to be is an ex-principal -- and quite possibly a jailbird. He's expressed not only contempt for the law of the land and the Federal courts, he's become contumacious of his employer.

"The consent decree signed by the School Board has given away much of our freedoms," Lay claims. "It is time we stand up because the next generation is counting on that."

Actually, what the next generation should be counting on is a good, solid education. Under Lay's watch, they're obviously missing out.

Still, there is no one better than Lay, himself, to illustrate the fundamental reason our founding fathers took special care to craft a Constitution that simultaneously guards against state-sponsored religious activity at the same time it guarantees the free exercise of personal religious convictions. Sacrificing academic merit in a public school for someone's favored religious expression is precisely what the Constitution was designed to prevent. We remained shocked that Pace high school students don't know this.

Lay is entitled to say and pray whatever he wants, to himself or inside the "Assembly of God" brand of religious house. But he's not entitled to abuse his position as a publicly-paid high school principal by flouting the law and importing his own religious sentiments inside the walls of Pace High School.

Take a history course, Reverend Principal Lay. (And you, too, Don Stuart of Pensacola Beach.) The Puritans settled Massachusetts in 1630 not to escape religious persecution in England, but to establish a religious autocracy of their own right here in North America. As the great Puritan scholar Perry Miller once wrote, "There is nothing so idle as to praise the Puritans for being in any sense conscious or deliberate pioneers of religious liberty."
They maintained here precisely what they had maintained in England, and if they exiled, fined, jailed, whipped, or hanged those who disagreed with them in New England, they would have done the same thing in England could they have secured the power.


The [17th century] government of Massachusetts, and of Connecticut as well, was a dictatorship, and never pretended to be anything else; it was a dictatorship, not of a single tyrant, or of an economic class, or of a political faction, but of the holy and regenerate. Those who did not hold with the ideals entertained by the righteous, or who believed God had preached other principles, or who desired that in religious belief, morality, and ecclesiastical preferences all men should be left at liberty to do as they wished -- such persons had every liberty... to stay away from New England. If they did come, they were expected to keep their opinions to themselves; if they discussed them in public or attempted to act upon them, they were exiled; if they persisted in returning, they were cast out again; if they still came back, as did four Quakers, they were hanged on Boston Common. And, from the Puritan point of view, it was good riddance.

Miller, "The Puritan State and Puritan Society,"
Errand into the Wilderness (1956)
In that bygone world to which ignoramuses like principal Lay and beach resident Stuart so groundlessly appeal, every nation in the western world "assumed it could allow only one church to exist within its borders, that every citizen should be compelled to attend it and conform to its requirements, and that all citizens should pay taxes for its support." When the Puritans were unable to succeed at home, in England, by having their church so enthroned, "they came to America, where they could establish a society in which the one and only truth should reign forever."

To be sure, Puritan government slowly liberalized to a minor degree over the course of the late 17th and 18th centuries. Non-believers who were taxed to support the Congregational sect eventually were given the right of franchise to vote on some matters. But it was not until after the American War of Independence that a complete separation of church and state became possible.

Our founding fathers built a constitutional wall between the religious and civil governments precisely to avoid entangling the civil administration of government (including public schools) with any religious creed, as the Puritans had done. They saw the First Amendment as a keystone of individual freedom; not just because of the freedom-of-religion clause, but the anti-establishment clause, as well.

All of this may be giving Preacher Lay more credit than he deserves. We can't shake the sense that this is not really, for him, a religious crusade so much as it is the opening salvo in a political campaign. What, after all, is left for an obscure, unemployed, and hypocritical martyr to do, once he's been found guilty of deliberate contempt of court, except run for political office?

More Pace High School Religious Instruction

Sept. 18: Late Editorial Update ("Homo Neanderthalensis")

Sept. 17: Lay, Freeman Beat the Rap with the 'I'm Stupid' Defense
Sept. 17: Pictures of a Pep Rally
Aug. 22: Stupid, Not Contemptuous
Aug. 5: The One and Only Faith
Aug. 4: Frank Lay's Criminal Contempt Order
May 31: Principal Lay Has a 'Come to Jesus' Moment
May 15: Southern Hos-Pee-Tility


Jerry F said...

Thanks for this great post. It should be required reading for students and faculty at Pace High. You should submit it as an op-ed to the newspaper.

Anonymous said...

Roy Moore was a classmate of mine at the University of Alabama Law School. One of the professors, when Roy inevitably raised his hand, would call on him by saying "what now fruit salad?" Moore wore his Green Beret outfit to law school for the first year complete with beret. He was a nut then and is still nuts. Nevertheless he might be the next governor of Alabama. Strange world.

Duralee said...

Thank you for this post. it was very cool to read.

Anonymous said...

I will pray that you let go of your rage.

Anonymous said...

I dare you to simply pray. Ask God if he is listening. Ask him to help you decide what is right. Your freedom to express yourself in this blog has come with a great cost that you certainly did not have to pay for. Jesus in fact has paid all. Talk to him, I dare you.