Christian Right Group Tells School to Call ACLU’s Bluff

During the recent graduation ceremony at Montana State University – Northern, a pastor walked on stage and made several references to Jesus Christ.

Elizabeth Griffing, Legal Director at the ACLU of Montana, sent school officials a letter (PDF) explaining what they needed to do:

Makes sense, considering it was obviously illegal.

So what did the (Christian) Alliance Defense Fund do?

They sent school officials a letter essentially saying, “Don’t worry about the ACLU. They’re just making everything up. Go ahead and continue proselytizing.”

This is really what they wrote (PDF). (Really):

For the invocation, he simply explained to the audience what an invocation is, noting that it was his privilege and honor to invite God to be present at this ceremony. Then he blessed the graduates, closing his prayer in Jesus’ name. For the benediction, he simply read Psalm 1, noting that it outlined the Biblical guidelines for success. Then he prayed again for the graduates, asking that they would be blessed, and closed his prayer in Jesus’ name. Never did he discuss a personal relationship with Jesus or reference Christ as a personal Savior. And he never offered a public invitation, urged people to convert to Christianity, discussed or disparaged another faith, or engaged in any of the hallmarks of “proselytizing.”

See? There was no proselytizing! There were only prayers with references to Jesus and readings from the Bible. Why would any student be troubled by that?!

I know the ACLU prefers to settle out of court. But part of me wants to see the ACLU take the school (and ADF) to court and crush them.

Montana State University officials — probably already strapped for cash like other schools in the country — would be wise to publicly apologize and never allow a priest to be part of that ceremony again. If Christians want to pray before graduation, I’m sure there are churches in the area that would gladly host a service for them.

Atheist Craig James asks the obvious questions:

Why, in this day and age, do Christians feel they can use the state or federal government to force their prayers on other people? Is there some reason that their private prayers and their prayers in church are ineffective? Doesn’t God listen during their private prayers? Do they have to pray at the event in order for God to listen? Or is God sort of deaf, and only listens when thousands pray?

(via The Religion Virus)

  • Susi Bocks

    they don’t even follow their own bs…

    Matthew 6:5-8
    5″And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

  • http://www.atheistsofflorida.org EllenBeth Wachs

    There is one point and one point only to do this and that is to proselytize. We all know this.

  • Jon Peterson

    Ditto @Susi.

    Matthew 6 is an excellent tool for challenging Christians that insist on prayer at public things like City Council Meetings, Public School Graduations, etc.

    I’m actually rather surprised it doesn’t get mentioned more often.

  • evilspud

    Sounds like a pastor was invited, and merely talked about what he knew in a way that he felt was reasonable.

    I object to the prayer, but simply quoting from Psalms is not a church state violation, anymore than quoting from Aesop’s Fables is an endorsement of talking animals.

    The pastor should understand that the prayer he gave during the invocation did not represent the entire graduating party, and should apologize for marring a perfectly acceptable speech on success.

    It’s wrong because the speaker is meant to be a representative of the community addressing the class, and the pastors speech implies that the community chose a representative who did not hold the views of the entire graduating class.

  • http://yetanotheratheist.net Yet Another Atheist

    Atheist: “But Matthew 6, Verses 5-8 says…”
    ReligioNut: “Don’t quote scripture to me! How dare you! Blah blah blah, don’t take the bible literlaly, blah blah blah, Judas died in two different ways because, blah blah blah, God isn’t THAT evil, blah blah blah!”

  • plutosdad

    Whenever you see “he simply …” you know what he did was anything but simple. Similarly whenever someone says “all I said was…” you know he said and did a lot more.

    What kills me is the outright lying they are doing. They are saying a prayer to Jesus is not actually a prayer to Jesus. As if everyone else is stupid, or that it is ok to bear false witness as long as it’s in a good cause.

  • http://onestdv.blogspot.com OneSTDV

    I agree that this is wrong, but shouldn’t the ACLU bother with bigger problems?

    I mean, how many tiny tiny battles are they going to fight? Come on, Montana State – Northern?!?!

    I think it just agitates the religious. The ACLU should focus on more substantial potential problems, like faith-based initiatives or other national stuff. Fighting every prayer said at every small town graduation ceremony isn’t going to accomplish anything.

  • Citizen Z

    I’d love to see them defend a burglar:

    Never did he break or lift a window, or wear a mask, or wear black or striped clothing. Nor did he cackle evilly or leave a leather glove with initials on it as a calling card, some of the hallmarks of “burglary”. He simply entered the building to take things that did not belong to him.

  • http://thegodlessmonster.com/ The Godless Monster

    @OneSTDV,
    Anyone would agree that indecent exposure does not rise to the level of seriousness as rape, but as any criminal psychologist will tell you, one can – and often does – lead to the other.
    Also, who determines what violations are too petty and can be ignored and what ones should be punished?
    We either have the rule of law or we do not. Arbitrary enforcement based on feelings is too third-world for me.

  • Kelly

    It was inappropriate, but it certainly wasn’t unconstitutional.

    Like it or not freedom of speech is granted to individuals.

    There are better ways than using the ACLU to challenge the tactics of the believers in this instance. Organize a protest and give the school all kinds of bad publicity. Embarrass the crap out of the school and I guarentee they won’t let this happen again.

  • Flail

    @Kelly

    Assuming all the information in the article is accurate, this was a mandatory event for a publicly funded school in which the students were forced to sit and listen to prayer and Christian readings. That is a pretty clear violation of the Establishment Clause.

    You are correct that the pastor has freedom of speech, and he had every right to hold a church service or stand out on the street and proselytize. The violation was not by the pastor, it was by the school for inviting him to speak and forcing those students to sit and listen to Christian prayer.

  • http://www.lavenderliberal.com/ Buffy

    Susi,

    “they don’t even follow their own bs…”

    Of course. The Bible isn’t something for them to follow. It’s something for them to use as a weapon against others.

  • Wayne Dunlap

    I’m a former Christian, and now an agnostic with Theist leanings, so that may color my thoughts, but I really think the whole thing is much to do about nothing. The ACLU shouldn’t be wasting their time on such a mundane issue. If the school wishes to have a minister give a prayer and give some quotes from the Bible, let it. There are those who are religious and will appreciate it. Those who are atheists can simply ignore it. What the Hell harm is it causing? NONE! For Gaud sake, too many people get all worked up over nothing.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    noting that it was his privilege and honor to invite God to be present at this ceremony.

    What does that mean when God is supposed to be omnipresent?

  • Luther

    Why, in this day and age, do Christians feel they can use the state or federal government to force their prayers on other people?

    I can give you five reasons and they are all on the Supreme Court: Roberts, Alito, Thomas, Scalia, and Kennedy.

    Ha Ha! I used their names and reason in the same true sentence.

  • colin

    I suppose God might be a little deaf. Old people sometimes lose their hearing, and God is pretty old.

    Or maybe He/She/It has taken to wearing earplugs to block out all the prayers for intolerance.

  • http://allusiveatheist.blogspot.com T Ray

    A litmus test is to rewrite the invocation from the standpoint of three other religions. If it is unwelcome and/or illegal when another religion is represented it is unwelcome and/or illegal when your religion does it.

    Another litmus test is does the speech in anyway represent a nonsecular view?

  • Dan W

    For those who say this is too small an issue to worry about, I say this:

    These Christians are blatantly ignoring the U.S. Constitution by forcing their prayers onto everyone at a government-funded college. The government is not supposed to support any particular religion over any other. When people ignore the Constitution like this, it is not a small issue.

    Personally, I don’t think we secularists should restrict ourselves to fighting only some attempts to violate our country’s secular founding. I say fight back against all efforts to force religion into the government where it doesn’t belong.

  • geekgazette

    @ Yet Another Atheist

    That is exactly how the discussion would go.
    It kills me that so many want to cram their bible and religion down our throats, but use it against them and they are the first to say it isn’t meant to be taken literal.
    How silly of me to think that the words of their infallible god should be “correct” by their standards.
    Us silly atheist and our silly logic.

  • Snuggly Buffalo

    It sounds like this was the Montana branch of the ACLU, so I’m not sure they don’t have time to deal with something like this. I think this is the only major church-state violation I’ve heard of in the state in quite a while, though maybe I’m just not keeping up on local politics well enough.

  • Wayne Dunlap

    Dan w says:
    “These Christians are blatantly ignoring the U.S. Constitution by forcing their prayers onto everyone at a government-funded college.”

    Dan, get real. Haven’t you heard the old saying “You can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink”? From what I see, it was just at a graduation cerimony. It’s not as big a deal as you are making it out to be. Whether we like it or not, the vast majority of the U.S. population is Christian and our Government was founded on Christianity. True, there is separation of church and state, but that is only an issue if the government functions based on religion, which is a problem under the Republicans.

  • mike

    I think that this is a great use of the ACLU’s time, on purely practical grounds.

    Winning the issue only costs a letter. Or…

    Taking MSU-N to court and scoring an easy win. They pay lawyer’s fees to the ACLU and thereby help fund the ACLU.

    These slam-dunk cases are a great way to fund the ACLU as they require minimal effort by the ACLU and raise funds. They need cases like these to keep the offices open and the lawyers paid. Then they have money in reserve when they have to go pro-bono or fight a case that they will probably lose but must fight anyway.

    Furthermore, I like the current cultural attitude toward the ACLU by the crazy christians. They fear running afoul of someone’s rights because they know that the ACLU will crush them in court with no effort and they will take their money and use it down to road to: legalize gay marriage (gasp), protect children molested by priests (the horror), or even (WIDE EYES) support women’s rights.

  • muggle

    Frankly, the attitudes expressed here as to why is the ACLU making a big deal out of it is the best argument for the ACLU making a big deal out of every violation.

    I’m so sick and tired of the it’s only a small infraction and pick your battles bullcrap, I could spit. To the first, you’re admitting it’s an infraction and just because it’s not a big deal to your believing or half-way maybe believing ass doesn’t mean it’s not to my nonbelieving one. To the second, I am. You just don’t like the battle I’m choosing.

    And yeah right like you’d be taking the same blase attitude if it was Hail, Satan! instead of Praise, Jesus! And no might (as in face it, Christians are a majority) doesn’t make right.

  • Wayne Dunlap

    Muggle, I completely disagree with your reasoning. The whole thing is much to do about nothing. For crying out loud, all they did was have a minister say a prayer at a graduation cerimony. You act like this was something so terrible, even trying to compare it to something evil as devil worship. I am an agnostic, but I have no problem with a minister saying a prayer and giving a talk, and many of the students like it. It isn’t going to poison my mind or anybody elses. If I don’t agree, I simply tune it out. I don’t run for my lawyer. Whether you like it or not, our country was founded on Christianity. What annoys me is that we have to be so concerned that we might upset every little faction out there. I get so sick of this political correctness. Give it a rest. One primary reason I will never contribute to the ACLU is their going overboard with every stupid thing like this bringing law suits. That said, I feel their time would be better spent on cases like the Dover PA evolution trial.


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