Laporte, MN, May 26, 2006-Today during practice for graduation this evening, school officials at Laporte High School told students, Aaron Reimer and Victoria Raddatz, they could not sing a duet because of the song’s religious content. After Liberty Counsel intervened on behalf of the students, school officials reversed their position and allowed the students to sing.
Laporte High School is a small school, with approximately 30 graduating seniors. A student-led committee working on a portion of the graduation ceremony invited Aaron and Victoria to sing a song. The song they chose is “Treasure of Jesus” by Steven Curtis Chapman, a widely known Christian musician. School officials allowed the seniors to put together a portion of the graduation, which also included, among other things, a student slide show. However, while the students were practicing for graduation Friday morning, school officials learned for the first time that some students intended to sing a Christian song. The students were told they could not sing the song because it is religious viewpoint. The students and their parents then contacted Liberty Counsel.
In a demand letter issued late this afternoon, Liberty Counsel advised school authorities that it could permit the students to sing the song and further advised that Liberty Counsel was prepared to offer free legal assistance. On the other hand, the letter also stated that if school authorities censored the religious viewpoint of the song, such action would violate the First Amendment rights of the students. The choice of the song was solely that of the students. The school did not direct that the song be sung and was unaware of its content until today’s rehearsal. When the selection of what to say or sing is solely the independent decision of students, then the school does not violate the Establishment Clause by permitting the message. But the school does violate the Free Speech Clause when officials censor the message because of its religious viewpoint. After negotiating with school officials for almost three hours, explaining the law, and warning of the impending suit if the song was censored, school officials reversed their position and allowed the students to sing the song.
Anita Staver, President of Liberty Counsel, stated: “Students have the right to include religious viewpoints during their graduation speeches. It is inappropriate for a school to censor religious viewpoints from a student’s personal graduation message, or in this case, a particular song. It is insensitive and unconstitutional to silence student-initiated musical performances.”
Mathew D. Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, commented: “Religious speech is fully protected by the First Amendment. When school officials intentionally censor a student’s message or song because of its religious viewpoint, they cross the line. Thinking they are doing the right thing, school officials who censor religious viewpoints end up offending the Constitution.”