In 2008, the ACLU sued the School Board for Santa Rosa County, Florida, to stop school officials from using their governmental positions to promote their personal religious beliefs in public schools.  School officials, including Principal Frank Lay, routinely and pervasively promoted, endorsed, and even led prayers at graduation ceremonies and other school events, sponsored religious ceremonies, and held official school events at churches.  The ACLU represented two affected students at Pace High School.

The School Board admitted liability and a federal district court judge preliminarily enjoined the continued unconstitutional practices while the ACLU and the School Board negotiated a consent decree.  A federal judge approved the consent decree in May 2009.

In the summer of 2009, the federal court ordered Frank Lay, Robert Freeman, and Michelle Winkler to show cause why they should not be held in contempt for violating the preliminary injunction.  However, insufficient evidence failed to result in any sanction.

Later in the summer of 2009, Liberty Counsel, an outside ultra-conservative Christian legal organization, attempted to intervene and overturn the entire consent decree.  In September, 2009, the Liberty Counsel rejected an offer by the ACLU and the School District to avoid exposing taxpayers to expensive litigation by making clarifications to the original agreement   The ACLU successfully fended off this challenge.

In the summer of 2010, Liberty Counsel again returned to challenge the consent decree, this time representing school teachers and students who filed a separate lawsuit.  In 2011, after the ACLU agreed to a minor clarifications and the School Board paid Liberty Counsel $265,000, the school teachers dropped the lawsuit.

The First Amended Consent Decree remains in effect as of Oct. 2017.


Benjamin Stevenson


United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida Pensacola Division



Case number

Case 3:08-cv-00361-MCR-EMT