Judge: School Clerk Did Not Violate Prayer Ban

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A judge has cleared a Florida school district clerk of violating a federal court order against prayer in school or at school-related events.

Michelle Winkler was asked by the Santa Rosa County School district to present "a thought of the day" at the annual Employee of the Year banquet in February. She in turn asked her husband, who doesn't work for the district, to pray during the event. 

But that prayer allegedly violated an agreement between the American Civil Liberties Union and the district that banned employees from praying at school functions.

U.S. District Court Judge Casey Rodgers ruled Friday that Winkler would not be held in contempt by the court -- she was not among the parties named in the original lawsuit.

Judge Rodgers also ruled that Winkler did not know the event was covered by the settlement in the federal lawsuit.

Winkler's representation, Liberty Counsel, contended that the banquet was not a school-sponsored event. It was a privately funded banquet that took place off campus after school hours to honor noninstructional employees of the school district, the nonprofit legal group said.

"While we are pleased with the ruling, we are saddened that a wonderful woman had to spend a day in court, with the ACLU's crosshairs aimed at her back," said Mathew D. Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, in a statement Monday.

"Prayer is neither contemptuous nor criminal," he added. "It is outrageous that the ACLU sought civil contempt charges against an outstanding woman whose husband prayed a beautiful prayer at a privately sponsored event held off campus. The ACLU needs to take a good dose of the First Amendment and call us in the morning."

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