Sunday, August 02, 2009

Contempt of Education

We'll refrain, for now, from commenting directly on the new criminal contempt-of-court charges facing Pace, Florida, high school principal Frank Lay and athletic director Robert Freeman. We accomplished our objective the other day, anyway, by waking up the PNJ news assignment editor.

Besides, according to the newspaper's summary, the specifics are under seal. They first have to be served on the defendants.

It's serious business when a federal judge initiates charges of criminal contempt against anyone. Very, very serious. Judges don't do that kind of thing lightly or often. The penalty, if found guilty, rarely is light. The stakes are huge for everyone. For the defendants, their freedom. For the rest of us, nothing less than the rule of law on which our democracy depends.

That same secular law we operate under, let us remember, also extends to Lay and Freeman the legal presumption of innocence. That presumption can only be removed by a final judgment, after a fair trial, of their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; or, by an admission of guilt in hopes of saving themselves from an endless jail sentence, ruinous defense attorney fees, and unemployment.

We would like to point one thing out, however. While Lay and his alleged criminal accomplices have been busy secretly concocting prayers to "Father God/in Jesus' holy and precious name" -- to be read aloud at school events by spouses and surrogates, there are students -- and even Santa Rosa School District employees -- whose manifest need for more education has gone unattended.

Take, for example, Linda S. Novota's Letter of Reprimand to Michelle Winkler. Now, we have no doubt that Ms. Novota is a wonderful person. She's probably over-worked, too, what with all the school employees busily trying to sneak Jesus through the back door into Pace High School.

Even so, it's disappointing to see a "Director of Exceptional Student Education" carelessly mismatching plural nouns with imprecise singular verbs in a document so manifestly important as an employer's reprimand of one of Lay's alleged confederates:

And, that's the real point of all these court proceedings, isn't it? Where certain educators in Santa Rosa County have gone wrong is putting their personal religious preferences ahead of the public school job they are paid to do: namely, educate.

We don't mention this to embarrass Ms. Novota. Indeed, a larger question here might be what is a "Director of Exceptional Student Education" doing, anyway, handing out reprimands that properly should be written by the personnel department?

In any event, if Lay & Co. want to engage in magical thinking and recite aloud purple-prose paeans to make-believe characters, they're free to do so on their own time in any place of their choosing -- except a public space operated by the government for the benefit of all people of all religious, and non-religious, beliefs. While they're engaged in the public school educational jobs they're paid to do, they should do just that -- educate, not proselytize.

To do anything less is contempt of education. And if that isn't a crime, it ought to be.


bnao said...

It seems that the constitution says "congress shall make no law respecting religion, nor prohibit the free exercise thereof' How in the name of God does the supreme court or anyone else who can read intrepret a high school principal saying grace before a meal as being "congress making a law". The "supremes" have it wrong, just as they have many other decisions wrong.

Anonymous said...

You're right, bnao. The only time the Supreme Court should be respected is when they set down decisions you personally agree with. (I'm betting you didn't have a problem with DC v. Heller, but then again, that's assuming you're educated enough to know what that case is about.)