Read the story, then decide: why did I include it in a weird news column?
Thanks to support from the American Civil Liberties Union, Stevenson High School in Sterling Heights, Mich., has been forced to back down after it censored Class of 2001 Valedictorian Abby Moler. School officials removed a biblical quotation from a statement Moler made in the class yearbook, telling her she wasn’t allowed to make religious comments. The school will issue a written apology to Moler, add her quote in file copies of the yearbook, and will “train its staff on free speech and religious-freedom issues.” Moler plans to be a teacher. (Detroit Free Press) …”First Amendment rights… are available to teachers and students. It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate. This has been the unmistakable holding of this Court for almost 50 years.” –1969 U.S. Supreme Court decision (Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District)
So why is this “weird news”? Because it challenges preconceived notions of a large segment of my readers. It’s pretty danged obvious bait, and I was not disappointed: many readers took it. Take a gander at just a few of the rants generated:
There is no way you can convince me that the ACLU (American Communist Lawyers Union) defended a girl who wanted her biblical quotation to be able to stand in a “public” school. Those Commies would never defend something as right as that. Look at their disgusting actions in relation to L.A. County. The ACLU should be shot, they are UN-American. I don’t understand how ANYONE can support these jerks, they need to have their head examined. Did I read the story wrong? I could see them more in line with forcing this valedictorian to remove her quotation. Either this doesn’t make sense, or I read the story wrong. Thanks in advance. –Matt, Virginia
I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I couldn’t convince you, Matt, since many don’t care about actual proof. But it was indeed the ACLU, and their actions are entirely consistent with their stated goals. Read on!
Regardless of what the newspaper might have stated, I can guarantee you that it wasn’t the ACLU that supported Abby Moler — they have been on the forefront of having any and all references to Christianity removed from all government supported institutions. Rather, the group was the ACLJ — the American Center for Law and Justice which supports the people’s right to reasonable religious free expression as intended by the framers of the Constitution. –Shane, Wyoming
Are you willing to bet real money on that guarantee you made, Shane? Please decide how much, then send me a check. Read on!
Groups like the ACLU have spent countless hours in courtrooms at the local, state, and federal level taking to task any government institution that fails to adequately separate church from state and their efforts have been rewarded with the revision of offensive policies, the removal of offensive employees, and the recovery of offensive amounts of punitive damages. School districts have paid dearly for letting God in the door. Is it any surprise if they try to keep him off campus? –Kevin, New Jersey
Why is it so difficult to understand that the ACLU works to guarantee the rights set forth in our Constitution? Not for the majority, but for everyone? Why would anyone think there was a conflict in demanding that governmental institutions, such as schools, not be allowed to promote religions, and demanding that individuals should be able to exercise their free speech rights, so long as they don’t impinge on the rights of others? Because there is no conflict in holding both positions at the same time. Indeed, that’s exactly what our Constitution dictates.
It’s interesting that people would demand to state what the ACLU does when they don’t work there, aren’t members, and frankly probably wouldn’t be caught dead visiting the ACLU’s web site. And, before I go any further, let me state for the record that I am not a member of the ACLU, and have never contributed a cent to them.
So here’s what the ACLU has to say about their mission regarding religion for anyone who bothers to go to their site to find out:
The right of each and every American to practice his or her own religion, or no religion at all, is among the most fundamental of the freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. The Constitution’s framers understood very well that religious liberty can flourish only if the government leaves religion alone. The free exercise clause of the First Amendment guarantees the right to practice one’s religion free of government interference. The establishment clause requires the separation of church and state. Combined, they ensure religious liberty. Yet assaults on the freedom to believe continue, both in Washington and in state legislatures around the country. The ACLU will continue working to ensure that religious liberty is protected by keeping the government out of the religion business. (source)
I’ll note that when I looked this up, this is where I got my first disappointment with the ACLU’s web site: there was no press contact listed for me to solicit an official response, since I’m neither inclined nor capable of defending the ACLU, and the “feedback” link didn’t work. So I went to the Michigan chapter’s web site, since that was the chapter that defended the girl, and did find a way to contact them. I sent them the letters above and asked for their on-the-record response. A reply came within a few hours:
Randy, Thanks for the opportunity to respond to our critics. If people really understood what we do, they’d be more likely to join rather than criticize.
Regarding the case of Abbey Moler, the high school valedictorian whose Bible passage was omitted from her yearbook:
The ACLU has long been a defender of First Amendment rights — both free speech and religion. The ACLU maintains a firm commitment to upholding the Establishment Clause, which guarantees the separation between church and state. But we also maintain a firm commitment to every person’s right to freely question, debate and express themselves. This is, after all, the hallmark of a democratic society.
In this case, the high school had created a forum for student expression through the yearbook, yet censored Ms. Moler’s speech because it was religious in nature. While it is true that schools may not constitutionally promote religion, they also must be very careful not to suppress the private religious expression of their students, which is what they did by refusing to publish her words. In doing that, the school violated the free speech clause of the First Amendment. The Bible passage that Ms. Moler chose best conveyed her own thoughts and in no way reflected a school position.
Abbey Moler is not the first person whose religious liberty we have defended. There were many before her and there will be many more. In Michigan, we recently defended the right of a Baptist minister to perform baptisms at a state operated lake and we are currently defending a Catholic man who was not allowed to practice his religion while in a rehabilitation program. In Iowa, we defended the right of conservative Christian activists to broadcast on public access television and, in Florida, we defended the right of preachers to deliver their message in the streets of Tampa. The list goes on and on.
We are many things to many people and have defended the rights of every group on the political spectrum from anti-war protesters and Oliver North to church-state separation activists and Jerry Falwell. I hope that your readers are never in need of our help, but if they are, they should know that we will be here to defend their rights.
Public schools simply do not belong in the religion business; it belongs at home and at church, not in government institutions. How can anyone truly argue otherwise? Because if so, exactly which religion would they profess be forced on the children? Will everyone agree with that decision? Are you OK with someone else making the decision for you as to what your children should be indoctrinated in? If not, then you have no right to do the dictating yourself. The answer thus has to be to get all religion out of government-run schools, since very obviously there can be no agreement on which religion to choose. But, and this is an important but, children do have a long-standing right to pray on their own in school. For any bureaucrat to deny them that right is criminal.
There’s more on this topic on my Religious Freedom page.
Last, sure the ACLU would defend someone wanting to exercise their religious freedoms, but that liberal commie outfit wouldn’t defend someone wanting freedom with guns, right? Wrong!
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