ACLU pushes high-schoolers’ protest of … ACLU
The students are reacting to a Sept. 15 letter from the ACLU of Virginia telling school officials that a sectarian prayer delivered over the public-address system at a football game was unconstitutional. According to news reports, the students have now produced more than 1,000 t-shirts, which they plan to wear to this Friday’s game. The front of the T-shirts shows the school’s initials, a cross, and the words, “I still pray…” On the back is, “In Jesus’ name.”
“Religious liberty demands that the government not impose religious views on anyone,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis, “and free speech demands that the government allow individuals to express their views. This means that Gate City High School officials may not permit sectarian prayers over the public-address system at football games, but that they must allow students to protest the ACLU’s effort to stop those prayers.”
“This is not nearly as ironic as it seems, and it is certainly a wonderful opportunity for the school and the students to think about how fundamental constitutional principles are applied to real life,” added Willis.
In the Sept. 15 letter, ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca Glenberg warned Principal Greg Ervin that a sectarian prayer delivered over the public-address system before a football game earlier that month violated a U.S. Supreme Court ruling holding that such prayers carry the impermissible endorsement of the school and coerce participation in a religious exercise by persons attending the game. Glenberg’s letter was written after the ACLU received a complaint from the parent of a student.
In the letter, Willis writes that students are guaranteed the right of free speech, so long as the speech does not materially disrupt the educational process. Willis points out that a football game takes place during non-instructional time and doubts that a thousand students wearing T-shirts with religious messages will be disruptive.
A copy of Willis’ letter can be found below. Glenberg’s letter can be found online at http://www.acluva.org/newsreleases2009/GateCityHighSchoolprayerletter.pdf.
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