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Michelle Winkler is Cleared of Civil Contempt Charge in Santa Rosa County Prayer Case

Contact: Liberty Counsel Public Relations Department, 800-671-1776

SANTA ROSA COUNTY, Fla., Aug. 24 /Christian Newswire/ -- After a 7½ hour hearing in federal court, federal District Judge Casey Rodgers told Michelle Winkler that she would not be held in civil contempt over her husband's prayer at an awards banquet. Ms. Winkler, who is a clerical assistant for the Santa Rosa County School District, is represented by Liberty Counsel. Senior Litigation Counsel Horatio Mihet and David Corry defended Winkler against the ACLU last Friday. On September 17, Liberty Counsel will be back in court defending Principal Frank Lay and Athletic Director Robert Freeman on charges of criminal contempt over a blessing of the meal at a separate luncheon to honor private contributors to the athletic program.

Last year the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the Santa Rosa County School District. Judge Rodgers entered a broadly worded injunction in January 2009 regarding prayer and religious activities of school employees. Winkler attended a privately funded event off campus at a nearby Naval base, held after school hours to honor noninstructional employees of the school district. She invited her husband, who is not employed by the school, to read a beautiful prayer blessing she wrote for the honorees. The ACLU ran to court, claiming that Winkler should be held in civil contempt of the court order. The ACLU claimed they had a "rock-solid case" against Winkler, but after 7 ½ hours, the ACLU had no case. Judge Rodgers ruled against the ACLU, concluding that Michelle Winkler's husband's prayer at a voluntary gathering outside of school did not violate the court's order.

Upon hearing the ruling, Ms. Winkler hugged Liberty Counsel attorney Horatio Mihet and was overjoyed with the result. The courtroom was packed with people, who sat through the long ordeal to support Ms. Winkler. Dozens of additional supporters spent the day waiting and praying outside the courthouse.

Mathew D. Staver, Founder of Liberty Counsel and Dean of Liberty University School of Law, commented: "The wheels came off the ACLU's steamroller. 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. Prayer is neither contemptuous nor criminal. 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."