Frank Lay

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Frank Lay
Occupation Principal, Pace High School
Religion Baptist
Spouse Nancy Barron Lay (m. 1969)
Parents John Gordon and Margaret Lay
Children Dr. Kristopher Lay
Kace Lay Browning
Kara Lay Whitney
Klinton Lay

Henry Frank Lay is the current principal of Pace High School. He was a named defendant in a 2008 ACLU religious freedom lawsuit against the Santa Rosa County School District and was later charged with criminal contempt by U.S. District Court Judge Casey Rodgers for violating the terms of the consent decree agreed upon in the suit.

Background & personal life[edit]

A native of Santa Rosa County, Lay is a 1966 graduate of Milton High School. He received his bachelor's degree in physical education from Troy State University in 1970 and a master's degree in the same from Georgia State University in 1974. In 1977 Lay became a coach and teacher at Pace High School, and in 1989 he was named the school's principal.

Lay married the former Nancy Barron in 1969. She is now a reading teacher at Pace High. They have four children, two of whom are also teachers in the Santa Rosa School District (one at Pace High).

The Lays are currently members of Olive Baptist Church, where Frank is a deacon and Bible teacher.

King brothers[edit]

In the 1990s, the Lays donated money and time to the Heritage Home shelter, taking a particular interest in four brothers who had been placed there by their financially distressed father, Terry King. They made arrangements for two of the brothers, Alex and Derek, to visit their home on weekends. When the Heritage Home closed from lack of funding, the Lays became foster parents to 6-year-old Derek. He would live with them for the next seven years, during which time, the Lays later said, Derek became increasingly troubled. They sought help from counselors at their church, but eventually decided in October 2001 to return Derek to his father's custody. The next month, on November 26, Derek and his brother Alex committed patricide.

ACLU lawsuit[edit]

On August 27, 2008, the ACLU of Florida filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the Santa Rosa County School District on behalf of two Pace High School students. Principal Lay and former Santa Rosa Superintendent John Rogers were named as defendants in the complaint, which alleged that the school officials "used their government positions … to persistently and pervasively promote their personal religious beliefs in the public schools and at school events."[1] The complaint also alleged that teachers and staff preached about "judgment day with the Lord" and conducted Bible readings and biblical interpretations at student meetings.

According to Benjamin Stevenson, attorney for the Northwest Region, "We sent a number of letters and exchanged telephone calls to avoid litigation" in 2006. "After the School Board failed to bring the district in line with the Constitution and American values by ending the practice of school officials using their official positions to promote their religion, we had to act."[2]

It was later revealed that, among other infractions, the official Pace High School Teacher Handbook instructed faculty to "embrace every opportunity to inculcate, by precept and example, the principles of truth, honesty and patriotism and the practice of every Christian virtue."[3]

On December 15, the Santa Rosa County School Board, along with Lay and Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick, filed an "Admission of Liability" with the court regarding district-wide constitutional violations. On January 9, 2009, Judge Casey Rodgers issued an order prohibiting the school district and its employees from the following, effective January 19:[4][5]

  1. Promoting, advancing, aiding, facilitating, endorsing, or causing religious prayers or devotionals during school-sponsored events;
  2. Planning, organizing, financing, promoting, or otherwise sponsoring religious baccalaureate services at all schools within the Santa Rosa School District, including at Pace High School;
  3. Holding school-sponsored events at religious venues when alternative venues are reasonably available;
  4. Permitting school officials to promote their personal religious beliefs and proselytize students in class or during school-sponsored events and activities; and
  5. Otherwise unconstitutionally endorsing or coercing religion.

On January 28, at a luncheon for football boosters at the school's new fieldhouse, Principal Lay asked Robert Freeman, the school's athletic director, to lead a prayer blessing the food, in apparent violation of the injunction. A week later Lay wrote to Superintendent Wyrosdick, "I accept full responsibility for this action. My actions were overt and not meant to circumvent any court order or constitutional mandate."[6] He also said of the incident, "We did what we normally do in the South before we eat. I wasn't trying to hurt or offend anybody or cause any consternation."[7]

Michelle Winkler, a clerical assistant employed by the school district at the Berryhill Administrative Complex, committed a similar infraction at a February 20 "employee of the year" banquet. Several weeks earlier, Winkler had previously sent an "off the record" email asking permission to lead a prayer at the event: "I would like to use the prayer I had prayed about and received from God and will suffer whatever consequences for."[8] Director of purchasing Jud Crane had responded that there would be no invocation or devotion, but that Winkler could offer a non-religious "thought of the day." On the evening of the banquet, after two students led the attendees in the pledge of allegiance, Winkler rose and said that she was not allowed to pray, and subsequently invited her husband to the microphone to do so instead.

The consent decree and order signed on May 9, 2009 permanently enjoined school officials from "promoting, advancing, endorsing, participating in, or causing Prayers during or in conjunction with School Events" with specific instruction that "School Officials shall not encourage, solicit, or invite any person, either implicitly or explicitly, to deliver or offer a Prayer during or in conjunction with a School Event."[9]

Insurance agency owner Robert Smith, who graduated from Milton High School with Lay, established the Lay Freeman Defense Fund in August 2009 "to pay [the defendants'] legal expenses and to fight the ACLU."[10] Within a month it had raised about $40,000 and growing.

Community involvement & recognition[edit]


  • Carmen Paige. "A principal's principles." Pensacola News Journal, August 9, 2009.
  1. Complaint against Santa Rosa County School Board
  2. "ACLU sues school district." Pensacola News Journal, August 28, 2008.
  3. Pace High Teacher Handbook
  4. "Schools ordered to stop prayer." Pensacola News Journal, January 13, 2009.
  5. Injunction
  6. Letter from Lay
  7. "ACLU seeks contempt order." Pensacola News Journal, May 14, 2009.
  8. "ACLU seeks contempt order." Pensacola News Journal, May 14, 2009.
  9. Consent decree
  11. "Pace chamber honors leaders." Pensacola News Journal, January 26, 2005.