Conditions of Court-Approved 2009 Agreement Clarified to Protect Religious Freedom in Public Schools
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
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PENSACOLA, Fla. – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Florida today announced an agreement with the Santa Rosa County, Fla. superintendent of schools to strengthen and clarify a court-approved 2009 consent decree ending school sponsored religious activities.
The ACLU and the district’s superintendent agreed to reinforce and clarify the basic premise of the original consent decree: official, government-sanctioned religious activities are prohibited under the Constitution while individual religious expressions are constitutionally protected.
“Our original agreement with the school district was clear and consistent with religious liberty provisions of the Constitution,” said Benjamin James Stevenson, attorney in the ACLU of Florida’s Northwest Regional Office in Pensacola. “To the extent there was any confusion – real or mostly invented – about what the Constitution requires, we want to be clear and have been even more clear now.”
After the original consent decree was approved by a federal judge in May 2009, the Liberty Counsel, an outside Christian legal organization, attempted to intervene and overturn the entire consent decree. A federal court rejected its challenge after a December 2009 hearing, and the Liberty Counsel appealed. The Liberty Counsel also filed a separate, similar lawsuit challenging the Consent Decree in May 2010.
With the clarifications announced today, the Liberty Counsel will withdraw its legal challenge and the related appeal and support the new, modified consent decree. Neither the Liberty Counsel nor the any of the plaintiffs in their legal challenges were a party to today’s agreement on the modified consent decree.
“We are glad the essence of the underlying order remains intact, and we hope these minor clarifications will allow the teachers, students, staff and taxpayers of Santa Rosa County to move forward,” said Daniel Mach, Director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief.
A copy of revised agreement with marked changes is here: www.aclufl.org/pdfs/2011-07-01-SantaRosaConsentClarity.pdf
For more information on this case and the ACLU’s work defending religious freedom, please visit: www.aclu.org/religion-belief/does-v-school-board-santa-rosa-county-florida