ACLU Cannot Force School Districts to Censor Graduations

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Ouachita, LA – The graduating seniors at the six high schools in the Ouachita Parish School District voted to have a fellow student give a message during this week’s graduation ceremonies. Up in arms over the possibility the students will include religious themes or prayer at graduation, the ACLU issued a letter accusing the district of “trying to do an end-run around the Constitution with the so-called student-led prayers.”

The ACLU wants the district to censor prayer and religious messages from graduation, even if presented by students. The Louisiana chapter of the ACLU has intentionally ignored the distinction between school-sponsored prayer as contrasted with prayer or religious speech that is solely the decision of the students. In Adler v. Duval County School Board, Liberty Counsel successfully defended, against the ACLU, a graduation policy governing student speech. The school district implemented the legal principle established in the Adler case and, therefore, permits students to determine whether they want a fellow student to present a message. If so, the elected student is then permitted to present a message of his or her own choice.

Mathew D. Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel and Dean of Liberty University School of Law, was the lead counsel who successfully defended against the ACLU in the Adler case. The case went to the trial court twice, the federal court of appeals five times (twice before a panel of 12 judges) and to the U.S. Supreme Court twice. This case recognized that public schools are safe when they adopt an equal access policy for graduation, where students or other speakers are permitted to present a secular or religious message of their choice.

Liberty Counsel’s “Friend or Foe” Graduation Prayer Campaign seeks to educate and, if necessary, litigate to ensure that prayer and religious views are not suppressed during graduation.

Commenting on the matter, Staver remarked: “As long as there are graduations, there will be times when prayer and religious messages are part of the ceremonies. Religious viewpoints cannot be excluded from graduation ceremonies. When the message is the choice of the student or the speaker, religious viewpoints, including prayer, are permissible. The ACLU is wrong – schools must not censor private religious speech from graduation.”

Liberty Counsel is a nonprofit litigation, education and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of human life and the traditional family. Established in 1989, Liberty Counsel is a national organization with offices in Florida and Virginia, and hundreds of affiliate attorneys in all 50 states.