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School prayer, experience at issue in race for Clay superintendent

3:22 PM, Aug 10, 2012   |    comments
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CLAY COUNTY, Fla. -- The race for Superintendent in Clay County is getting heated.

"I am doing the job. I have done the job. I think my experience speaks to that," said Clay County Superintendent Ben Wortham.

Wortham thinks his work at the School District speaks for itself.

"So I have the experience, the qualifications and the performance, all rolled in to one package, ready to continue as your Superintendent of schools," he said.

He's held the position for the past four years and was deputy superintendent for 12 years before that.

But primary challenger Charlie Van Zant says it's not just a resume that counts.

"I don't think this race is about qualifications and paper tigers," said Van Zant.  

The district got national attention late last year when an atheist group from Wisconsin challenged flag pole prayer sessions that had become routine before the school day.

RELATED: Green Cove pastor agrees not to pray on Clay County school property

It was a debate that divided the town and ultimately led to a new policy that forbid the practice.

Wortham sided with the school district's attorney to ban adult-led prayer on school property.

Van Zant was a vocal supporter of the prayer, but says that's not why he decided to run.

"We have leadership that is not strong right now in the superintendent's office. If we had leadership I thought was strong, I would not be running," said Van Zant.  

A series of meetings over prayer at the flag pole drew huge crowds and heated debate on both sides of the issue.

A third candidate is running for superintendent and in a YouTube video says his candidacy is based primarily on the district's decision not to allow the adult-led prayer to continue.

Fred Gottshaulk has qualified for the race, but hasn't raised any money for the race, and could not be reached for comment for this story.

The school policy went in to effect months ago, but it's clear this is a debate that will play heavily in the election.

"We've been beat up on by the union, the ACLU, the atheists," said Van Zant.

"I think there are a small group of people who don't, and won't ever understand why we had to change the policy," said Wortham.

First Coast News

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