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Read the story, then decide: why did I include it in a weird news column?

God Forbid

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.

--Wendy Wagenheim
Communications Director
ACLU of Michigan

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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15 Comments on This Entry

All comments on this site are reviewed prior to being published. Spammers: don't waste your time. The posting criteria are simple: if a comment is worth visitors' time to read, it's approved. If not, it's not.


Posted by Mike from Dallas on February 16, 2009:

People believe what they want to believe. (My mind is made up; don't bother me with facts!) Although the ACLU may, at times, engage in defense of American rights to maintain their illusion of legitimacy, there are too many times when it's acted on the behalf of the "right" of illegal aliens to the detriment of American citizens. For those who insist on irrefutable proof, if I had that, the organization would disappear for all time. Just as PETA did when their true fundraising purposes were exposed. To paraphrase Marc Antony, "I have come to bury the ACLU, not praise it."

Posted by Jace; Baghdad, Iraq on February 17, 2009:

To Mike: I'm curious if you read what you wrote before hitting "Post". I only ask because by saying, "My mind is made up; don't bother me with facts!" (sic) you are freely admitting that your statement is based upon mere opinion and not the truth of the matter. How is this any way to have a logical argument on the merit of an organization? You then go on to admit that you have no proof that the ACLU is harmful, only a baseless comparison with PETA and a pointless quote. If one is to have a sound argument, one must "bother with the facts" to derive a sound conclusion that would sway others, not ad hominem.

Posted by Gary; Gainesville, FL on February 17, 2009:

It is not "Communist Lawyers Union" or "center for Law and Justice" as stated by the persons confused by the ACLU's involvement in various cases.

It is the American Civil Liberties Union thus they are reasonably involved in cases where "Civil Liberties" are being debated - whoever's rights they may be acting to defend and whether or not the defendants are popular (or even American).

Posted by Ryan, Manitoba on February 21, 2009:

TO Mike from Dallas:

I'm fairly certain that since you're from Texas and are complaining about illegal immigrants that you're white, so I'll make this short:

When you speak of how illegal immigrants are being favored, look into your own family tree to see a whole group of people who came over to North America without an invitation and I'll show you the definition of "illegal immigrant". Think about it.

Posted by Martin, UK on February 21, 2009:

After reading these stories, and the response from the ACLU, I can only wish that this organization operated in the UK.

There have recently been a number of high profile cases of (normally) Christian people being discriminated against by employers or government agencies, normally being told that they cannot promote (ie mention) Christianity in case they offend members of another religion.

Frequent amongst these are school authorities who suspend or expel Christian pupils for wearing a cross or crucifix, citing 'no jewelery' rules, while allowing Muslim pupils to wear a veil, or Sikh pupils to wear bracelets.

In one recent high profile case a 5 year old girl was disciplined in school for saying to a fellow pupil that non-Christians would go to hell. The girl's mother, who worked in a non-teaching role at the school, sent a private e-mail to her friends from her church asking them to pray for the girl.

The husband of one of the recipients of this mail was a Governor at the school and passed this private communication to the head of the school who then suspended the mother from work for promoting religion and bringing the school into disrepute. Following public outcry she is now back at work.

Please understand, I do not agree with the promotion of religion by government or employers, and religious rights and beliefs should be protected, but in the UK it seems to be that this protection applies to all religions except Christianity, and that Christianity cannot be mentioned.

Posted by Clemmie - North Carolina on February 25, 2009:

Interesting to learn about the real scope of the ACLU's operations. I may join!

On the subject of religion and prayer in schools, I think the late Ronald Reagan had a good grasp on reality: "Anyone who doesn't believe there's prayer in schools, never took an algebra test."

Posted by Wayne, Michigan. on April 30, 2009:

There's a difference between teaching religion and practicing religion, Abby Moler was practicing her constitutional right to include her beliefs in her statement made in the school yearbook, as I understand it she was a student, not a paid school teacher, nor someone representing the schools board of directors, therefore she was not a government employee thus releasing her and the school from any responsibility in infringing the laws of separation of Church and State unless her statement itself (which wasn't revealed) endorsed the affiliation of her school with a religion. As a practicing atheist I find belief in a higher being silly and childish, but I do believe everyone has the right to believe what they want, as long as they're not breaking the rules as written in the constitution of these United States. For the hypocrites, save your hate for the dictators of religious dogma, not the believers, for they know not the True Origins of their beliefs.

Posted by Chris Bedford, Cape Town South Africa on November 26, 2011:

Government in the 21st century West has become too big, too "Big Brother", and too involved in the lives of individuals.

Of course, the individuals are entirely to blame; they demand "someone" be held accountable for every little thing that goes wrong. Trip over your own feet in the road and sue the local authority for inadequately maintaining the sidewalks. Spill coffee on yourself and sue the restaurant for burning you. Get hurt jumping out of an aeroplane and sue the skydive centre for not warning you that you could get killed.

So now having invited the government to become entirely involved in your private life, I guess it's time to abdicate *all* responsibility for the things that our fathers and grandfathers took in their stride: thinking for ourselves and pursuing life, liberty, and happiness; in short, being adults.

Thus it is that Americans will accept -- nay, demand -- that a school suspend a kid for bringing a butter knife or one-inch plastic toy firearm to school, or strip-search a girl accused (by a known troublemaker!) of drug-dealing, or censor someone for expressing an opinion that contains religious conviction.

To some it may seem bizarre. To others it is merely another symptom of a steady decline in intellectual values: politicians are vilified because they belong to the wrong party, not because of the views they hold or programmes they advocate, and rumours are propagated because of their shock value, not their factual content. When will the public ever learn to think for themselves? Just this evening I was told with total conviction that "they" are spiking drinks (sodas in sealed cans) for sale in "clubs" -- by puncturing the base of the tin and injecting Eye-Gene (a vasoconstrictor eyedrop) or brake fluid (!) then "welding it closed again" (yep) and this causes the kids to "pass out" and... (or something -- the details get real sketchy from here on). The lady who told me this, heard it from so-and-so who "has 15 year old kids" -- well it must be true then, right?

So will the public ever start thinking for themselves? Not in my lifetime, I'm pretty sure of that. When I read comments like those of Matt, Va, above I know this. Does he even have the vaguest clue of what a "commie" is and what communist values are? I'm sticking my neck out as far as he did when I say "guaranteed not", but I think I'm on safer ground, because when he refers to the ACLU as the "Communist Lawyers" union he displays such a hugely ignorant slant one is really left wondering where to begin. Obviously he subscribed to "True" thinking it was just a comedy newsletter, and got a rude shock when your views on common sense started coming out. Whoa! He said what? :-)

---

I just relay things I read in the papers. And, sometimes, challenge readers to think a little. Many are not used to thinking, and it hurts their heads. But they're the ones I most want to think. -rc

Posted by Laura in Woodbridge, VA on October 8, 2012:

Thanks for creating this discussion forum, Randy. You spend a lot of time encouraging people to not just believe the sound bites and bumper sticker philosophy that passes for public discourse these days, but rather trying to force people to think and develop their own positions, and learn how to deal fairly with people who hold other positions. I've been very appreciative of your doing that to such a wide audience for years now. (I've been a Premium subscriber for over a decade now, I believe, and I wouldn't have given you that financial support if I didn't like what you're doing.) It seems like there aren't a whole lot of places where rational disagreement takes place anymore.

It also seems like there aren't many places left where constitutional principles receive not only lip service but are actually recognized as mandatory to the health of our democracy, either. The ACLU has represented many, MANY unpopular positions over the years, and get a constant stream of criticism for it -- but who would like it if we all were forced to think and believe the same thing? If we want genuine freedom of (and from) religion, thought, belief, etc., we NEED such "gadfly" organizations that nip at us to remind us that there are many, many schools of thought about ALL issues, and that the freedom to express those thoughts is guaranteed in our Constitution!

Sadly, support for civil liberties and constitutional principles certainly doesn't seem to exist in many places anymore -- Congress being one of the worst; they're a VERY bad example to follow right now. For several years now part of my job has entailed transcription of congressional committee meetings (for my stomach's sake, as few as I can manage!) -- and if you want to see a place where concern about truly representing the beliefs of ALL the people no longer exists, I'll direct you to the U.S. Congress. It's gotten so bad that virtually ALL votes are done by strict party lines, and most of our so-called representatives have simply handed their votes over to their party leaders to tell them what to vote for and against. Remember when political discussion involved the art of compromise? That doesn't exist anymore. Now it's just side A stating its immovable and immutable position, and side B stating its completely opposite and equally immovable and immutable position, end of story. (Just look at the current budget stalemate if you don't believe me!) How can we expect ordinary people to respect the opinions of others, and find ways to deal fairly with and compromise with people who they disagree with, if our elected officials, whose job description it is to do just that, who are SUPPOSED to be our leaders and people we should be able to look up to as the STRONGEST supporters of civil liberties, have completely ceased doing it? There is a very, very strident note of ugliness in the dealings in Congress these days as the parties become more and more polarized to their extremes, and I'm afraid that within another couple of elections the few moderates that remain will leave out of complete disgust with what the government of this country has become.

And because each of that, I truly fear for the continuance of democracy in this country as we've been taught that it should be. Maybe it's time I start supporting the ACLU because it seems that, with Congress ceasing to represent the vast majority of people in this country, they're practically the last bastion of actual support for civil liberties left in the U.S.!

Posted by Lou, Stevenson AL on October 8, 2012:

To anyone interested in reading some relevant and well thought-out commentary, I recommend "Empire" by Orson Scott Card. It's not necessary to read the novel itself (although I think it's pretty good), but the Afterword, starting on page 341 (at least in the first edition) covers the central issue (intolerance).

Posted by Nat, Ohio on October 13, 2012:

Love or hate the ACLU, one thing you can say about them is that they alwawys, always, ALWAYS stick to the full letter and spirit of their convictions no matter whose free speech they are defending. Not many of us can say that.

(To be fair, there is a difference between holding an intellectual value and then having to act on it in practice. It's why variations on "What if it happened to your family?" are a common challenge to politicos who champion a policy others think is too harsh; some things do hit too close to home.)

No one here has yet mentioned the landmark Skokie, Illinois case that went all the way to the Supreme Court. The ACLU dared defend neo-Nazis in that case, which, of course, lost the ACLU some supporters.

The rationale for championing ALL free speech is simple: Someday the tables may be turned. What is currently allowed free speech may be labeled "too extreme to be allowed" by some later generation. Demographic shifts can, do, and are happening. Minorities become majorities, and vice versa.

If you found yourself in a minority and you felt even the hint of efforts at repression of your right to free speech, wouldn't you want to be able to cite case after case after case of the Supreme Court upholding the rights of groups who were vilified, rightly or wrongly, at the time their case came before the Court?

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Yep: we don't NEED to have a right to speech everyone agrees with! -rc

Posted by Gerry, Boise, ID on June 8, 2014:

Randy wrote "...exactly which religion would (the ones who believe that public schools should promote religion) 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." This last statement expresses my own view about folks who want to require daily prayer in schools.

I'd wager that the majority of people who push that agenda probably don't pray with their own children before their kids head out the door in the morning. But these worthies still demand that the schools compel everyone's children to "voluntarily" pray every morning before class starts. And the question of "which prayer" is germane to the topic. A number of years ago, the Okaloosa County FL school district was sued because of (almost exclusively Christian) prayer before Friday night football games. Their compromise? Non-denominational prayer. Which led the local fundamentalist community to start screaming "You're forcing me to take Jesus out of my prayers!" Apparently it never occurred to those believers that they could simply say His Name on their own.

In the end the true purpose of "voluntary" religion is the need to force everyone to take part in "your" beliefs. It isn't really about worshiping God. It's about power and control.

Posted by Bonnie, Florida on June 10, 2014:

Everybody, take a chill pill! A big breath and a shake of the head to clear it! Now, remember; just because you disagree with someone does not make them a commie! We are Americans. People sneaking over the border admire us. They are not the enemy. Their governments might be but they are not. And yes, my father came from Argentina. . . legally. I am brown, not white but what difference does that make in my ability to reason an opinion on what is good for America? It will not be long, at 15 dollars an hour, that there will be NO entry level jobs and machines will be doing it all including flipping burgers. That will end the migration of unskilled labor. The only jobs will be in the . . oh wait, those without skills will not have jobs but will have government pittances as they do now. So be quiet, go to school and make a life for yourself based on reality not on thoughts that are based on paranoia.

Posted by Ross, Sunnyvale CA on June 12, 2014:

"When I mention religion, I mean the Christian religion; and not only the Christian religion, but the Protestant religion; and not only the Protestant religion, but the Church of England."

Quoting Mr. Thwackum the Divine, from The History of Tom Jones.

Posted by Randy, Bellevue on June 18, 2014:

Thanks for again standing up for organizations that stand up for us all. I too hear complaints about the ACLU, but they are misinformed complaints. The goal of the ACLU is, as a movie put it a few years ago, 'to defend the constitution of the US'. How can defending a document we all respect be bad? Only by being wrong about the purpose, plan and direction of the ACLU.

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Or the document! -rc

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