A showdown is looming at Florida elementary school Clay Hill over the legality of school prayer.
Ron Baker, pastor at Russell Baptist Church in Green Cove Springs, said that he would continue to pray no matter what happens. The flagpole, which is the site where the prayers have been taken place, is at the center of an ideological standoff between the school board and those who wish to pray. “Did you ever think that in America you’d be in trouble for praying at the flag? It’s disturbing.” Baker told Fox News.
The issue was raised when the attorney for the Clay County School Board, J. Bruce Bickner, submitted an opinion declaring that praying at the flagpole was against the law, “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.” Wrote Bickner.
The prayers start around 8:15 a.m. EST. Baker met with school principal Ben Worthman to see if a resolution could be reached. The principal offered the prayers take place before 7:10 a.m. But Baker argued that it would make it impractical for families, “You’re going to basically eliminate them from the opportunity.”
Morning prayers have occurred at the flagpoles of several schools in Clay County for 12 years with Baker leading those prayer sessions. But recently in a letter from the Freedom from Religion, a secular rights group said the event violates the separation of church and state.
“We hear a lot about church and state, but around here we talk about God and country, and we don’t see that they’re separable,” Baker said.
Co-president Annie Lourie Gaylor was concerned that the prayers were occurring at an elementary school with young children.
Debbie Kent, whose two children have attended to prayers before by themselves thinks that “it’s important for the children,” she said, “to remind them that they need to stand up for what we believe in. This is a good way to show it.”
When asked if she thought children were being forced to pray, Kent replied, “They’re not, this is all done before school and it’s all voluntary.”
The debate has caused a stir in the town. Before the story broke only about a dozen or so people would show up to pray. But a prayer session taking place earlier in the week drew the largest crowd ever at the flagpole, with vans bringing local congregations to pray.
When asked why the crowd was praying for the schools administrators Baker replied, “We’re not out here to cause any problems,” he said. “We’re proud of these people and to pray for them seems like the normal, natural thing to be able to do for them.”