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After 12 years of praying with kids at flagpole, pastor says offended atheists won’t stop him

Can a Wisconsin atheist group keep a Florida preacher from meeting with local kids who want to pray at their school’s flagpole before classes begin?

Students praying in Fort Myers, Florida

School Attorney Bruce Bickner for the Clay County School Board says the atheists can, indeed – that their threat of an expensive lawsuit means the kids need to stop praying. It seems the Madison, Wisc.-based Freedom from Religion Foundation is offended that for more than 12 years, Pastor Ron Baker of the nearby Russell Baptist Church, has showed up once a week at four different local elementary schools and prayed with any kids who want to start the day asking for the help, guidance and protection of the Almighty.

School Attorney Bickner says the school district must bow to the demands of the out-of-town atheists. He says, regardless of how anybody in Clay County, Florida, feels, praying at the flagpole is against the law, because “it is a violation of the United States Constitution for a teacher, school administrator or other school district employee to join in a prayer session during their work time,” according to the Jacksonville daily newspaper the Florida Times-Union.

Pastor Ron Baker

But a Christian legal group, the American Center for Law and Justice, points out that neither the preacher or the kids are school district employees. The ACLJ says the school district attorney has no authority over the parson or the children who want to pray with him – even if it offends Wisconsin atheists.

And ever since the atheist group’s threats were revealed to the public, the crowd of kids has grown.

Baker, a low-key country pastor, says he just wants to continue what he’s done for years without fanfare – praying with children whose prayer requests range from sick grandmothers to scraped knees and lost hamsters.

“Did you ever think that in America you’d be in trouble for praying at the flag?” Pastor Baker asked reporters. “It’s disturbing.”

For years, the parson and kids have prayed at 8:15 or so once a week outside each of the four elementary schools.

At Clay Hill Elementary, Principal Larry Davis suggested that Baker move the prayer time back an hour to 7:10.

Baker says he only prays with kids briefly. Asking first graders to show up for school more than an hour early is unreasonable, he says. Six-year-olds can’t pray for an hour – their attention spans are barely five minutes.

Parent Debbie Kent, whose two children have attended Baker’s prayer time voluntarily says she thinks that “it’s important for the children” that the parson be allowed to continue – “to remind them that they need to stand up for what we believe in. This is a good way to show it.”

When asked by a reporter if she thought children were being forced to pray, Kent pointed out that it was her kids’ idea to go pray with the preacher.

Pastor Baker says he plans to continue praying at Clay Hill Elementary. He also prays with kids once a week at Bennett, Lake Asbury and Shadowlawn Elementary Schools. “I’ve been advised by the American Center for Law and Justice that there is nothing illegal about what we’re doing and that it falls well within the perimeters of what the constitution allows,” he said.

Superintendent of Schools Ben Wortham says he will not ask police to arrest anybody. “My goal is to find some common ground rather than end up in an expensive lawsuit and a battleground,” he said.

Wortham is meeting with the School Board on Nov. 14. The school prayers will be the only item on the workshop agenda.

“Does the school board’s statement makes sense?” asks the news site Hot Air. “Where exactly does it say in the Constitution that government employees aren’t allowed to join a prayer session?

“It actually says, ‘Congress should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.’

“In general, the courts have held that the free exercise clause covers religiously motivated actions and not just internal belief, so wouldn’t a prayer session count as ‘the free exercise’ of religion?

“And how is ‘prayer session’ even defined? Does it extend to personal prayers, prayed soundlessly in the stress of a school day? It’s unconstitutional for the government to force employees to pray – but the Constitution certainly doesn’t forbid them from doing so.

“Unless Baker is a school district employee – and he doesn’t appear to be — what jurisdiction does the school board have over his actions at all?

 

 



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Comments read comments(7)
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Richard Johnson

posted November 4, 2011 at 11:39 pm


More power to you, pastor. I’m certain that there are Muslim clerics just waiting for you to win this case so they, too, can come onto school grounds and pray with students. And then there are the Mormon elders who will want their time with kids, and Jehovah Witnesses, Scientologists, Moonies, heck, I bet there are dozens of folks out there who are pulling for you to win this one, Pastor.

Just remember, once this horse is out of the barn, there’s no turning back.



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James

posted November 5, 2011 at 3:21 am


It appears the court has been wrong about its establishment jurisprudence and at least 5 justices know it.



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Whitney

posted November 5, 2011 at 1:40 pm


The fact of the matter is that the children are not forced to do anything. It is offered to them to go pray at the flagpole, they are not made to go. That being said, moving the location to a church would lower those being able to pray from these schools. You are apparently ignorant in regards to the location of these schools, as many times they utilize the bus system, especially Clay Hill Elem., and a lot of the families are low income. As long as the parents of the children praying are not offended, why should anyone care? It is just as influencing as sports and any other extracurricular activities, and just as voluntary. Maybe it is you who needs the instruction on the constitution as it clearly states that every U.S. citizen has the freedom of religion and we cannot discriminate anyone based on their religion. I should be allowed to pray wherever I want to just as atheists are allowed to not believe in anything wherever they want to and Muslims are allowed to wear hijabs wherever they want to. Thank you, Pastor Baker, for standing up for what you and all these children believe in. Continue to do what you are doing.

Sincerely, A Very Proud Clay County Resident



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Bryan Whiteaker

posted November 5, 2011 at 5:01 pm


You as a private believer, may pray wherever you like, as long as you don’t try to get a government institution to coerce others to do it too, and as long as the government doesn’t endorse, or appear to endorse a religion. It is the same for me- the government is not allowed to take my side regarding religion either. That way it is fair. By removing decisions of personal conscience from the government’s powers, religious citizens and people like me (non-religious citizens) are free to believe or not believe what they like. Otherwise, we end up with tyranny. Are you familiar with the term “Christian privilege”? You would find it is a very un-Christian concept (if you were to ask Jesus). Thanks for your time, we have a lot to learn from each other.



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rayman

posted November 15, 2011 at 9:48 pm


“It actually says, ‘Congress should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.’

The keyword of that is CONGRESS. A school teacher cannot break the 1st Amendment, only Congress can. Stop exaggerating the laws and say that a teacher praying is violating freedom of religion. It’s actually the opposite by saying they can’t.



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SANDRA

posted December 11, 2011 at 2:38 pm


PLEASE KEEP ON PRAYING DON’T STOP AND PLEASE PRAY FOR THE ONE THAT IS TRYING TO STOP IT THAT ‘S IS THE ONES THAT NEED IT AMEN AMEN



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Anna

posted October 26, 2012 at 11:57 pm


Great post! Thanks for sharing this to us. Keep posting!



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