A Christian legal firm has kicked off what it calls the “Friend or Foe Graduation Campaign.” Through it the organization hopes to encourage schools to respect graduating students' rights to free speech and religious expression.
Mat Staver of Florida-based Liberty Counsel says the firm will provide free legal representation to schools taking a neutral position regarding messages presented by students at graduation. However, he says the legal group will oppose any schools that attempt to suppress the religious viewpoint of student speakers or to censor the spiritual content of their speeches.
“We want to be the friend of schools that protect the rights of students but we will be a foe of those schools that strip student speeches of their religious content,” Staver warns.
The Liberty Counsel's president and general counsel notes that, while the Supreme Court has prohibited school-sponsored prayer, it has never banned all religious speech or prayer from graduation ceremonies.
For example, he cites the case of Adler v. Duval County School Board, in which the firm successfully defended a school board message policy against the American Civil Liberties Union. That policy allowed the students to vote to have a member of their class deliver a religious or secular commencement message according the speaker's choice. And after two trips to the Supreme Court, the policy was upheld.
“Students surely have a constitutional right to engage in speech,” Staver says, “and they don't lose that right simply because they walk up to the graduation podium. Schools allow students to engage in secular speech, and they must also allow schools and students to engage in religious speech as well.”
And Staver points to a similar case, in which the ACLU threatened to sue a small New York school with only 13 graduating seniors if any student delivered a prayer at its graduation. Liberty Counsel intervened in the case, and although the school had originally caved in to the ACLU's demands, school officials reversed their decision. They allowed the commencement speakers to deliver their messages uncensored, and the ACLU never filed its threatened civil suit.
The Christian attorney contends that schools should remain neutral, neither forcing students to pray nor prohibiting them from doing so. When in doubt, he says, the best policy is to allow the speaker to present the message of his or her own choosing.
Staver says Liberty Counsel will aggressively enforce its Friend or Foe Campaign this year. “We'll defend schools threatened by groups such as the ACLU,” he says; “Whenever these schools do the right thing and allow students to not only thank their friends, but most of all to thank God during graduation, we'll be there to defend them and be their friend.
“But on the other hand,” Staver adds, “if these schools decide to censor students' content of their message solely because it's Christian in nature, then we will be their foe.”
The Supreme Court acknowledged in the case of Lee v. Weisman that public schools would naturally have occasion to interact with religious persons, values, and practices at graduation time and throughout the course of the educational process. In that case, the high court ruled that schools may follow a neutral policy, permitting students to present an address on the topic of their choosing.
(This article courtesy of Agape Press).