ACLU of Virginia Defends Christian Students

You hear all the time that the ACLU is just a group of liberal atheists, but members of the organization (I’m one of them) and those who simply pay attention to what they do know otherwise.

Case in point: Christian athletes at Floyd County High School in Virginia put copies of the Ten Commandments up on their lockers, but the administrators put a stop to that:

This time, members of Fellowship of Christian Athletes at Floyd County High School say administrators tore down taped copies of the Ten Commandments from more than 50 lockers on Wednesday.

“We really wanted to set it up as an example,” said FCA member Andrew Harris.

“Birthday wishes, things like that seem to go up without an approval stamp,” said Harris.

School officials would not confirm to WSLS what happened, but did reveal their policy on posting to lockers. Principal Barry Hollandsworth said while approval is needed for flyers and announcements, he said notes such as happy birthday and well wishes for sports games do not need approval.

Obviously, the school can’t hang up Christian signs out of nowhere, but why are they stopping individuals from doing the same (when other personal signs are allowed)?

The ACLU said as much and came to the defense of the Christian students:

“Schools have the authority to ban all displays on school property,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “But if a school allows students to post some kinds of personal messages on their lockers, it must also allow other kinds of messages, including those that have religious content.”

“The removal of the Ten Commandments from student lockers at Floyd County High School appears to violate the First Amendment rights of students by discriminating against religious expression,” added Willis.

In her letter to Principal Barry Hollandsworth, ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca K. Glenberg draws a distinction between school-imposed religious expression, such as that which occurred in nearby Giles County, and the personal religions expression of students.

“The Supreme Court recognizes the difference between school officials’ imposing religious messages on students, which violates the establishment clause, and school officials allowing students to express their own views on religion in situations that are not school-organized or sponsored,” said Glenberg.

It’s the right decision, and it’s just another example of the ACLU standing up for civil rights, regardless of the situation. You don’t have to agree with what the Christian athletes are promoting, but they have a right to express themselves that way.

Remember this case when anyone accuses the ACLU of being sympathetic only to godless liberals.

  • http://hauntedtimber.wordpress.com/ timberwraith

    That sounds sensible to me.

    There have been more than a few cases where school administrations tried to restrict LGBT messages on T-shirts and the like. If you want to allow less popular forms of speech in school environments, such as LGBT positive messages, you have to allow religious speech—as long as it’s not outwardly hateful.

    Besides, I remember that locker doors were a really big way for students to convey their own sense of individuality. I think it’s pretty crappy to clamp down on that kind of activity.

    I’m a little worried that administrators might come up with a rule that simply disallows the posting of anything on locker doors, though. That’s the kind of draconian measures that some school districts have taken when trying to limit LGBT stuff in schools. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see…

  • http://everydayatheist.wordpress.com Everyday Atheist

    The ACLU is absolutely on the right side of this. If the school permits some student expression on lockers, it can’t discriminate against religious expression based on its religious content. While I wish religion would fade away (OK, a fast implosion would be preferable), the First Amendment goes both ways in protecting freedom of conscience. I wish this would get some play in right-wing media, but that would disrupt their godless-commie-ACLU narrative. Shame – the very people who claim to value freeom over everything consistently fail to support one of the strongest advocates of individual freedom out there.

  • Valhar2000

    According to Ed Brayton there is a significant bias toward liberal and secular causes in the cases the ACLU takes on, not because they refuse to help Christians, but because Christians don’t call them to ask for help. They’ve been told all their lives that the ACLU is the enemy and so the do not think to call them when they have a problem, even if it is the very kind of problem the ACLU would handle.

  • migrainegirl

    As long as the students are not putting a copy on my locker, I’m ok with it! Freedom is freedom; if we want our freedoms, we have to support others’ even if we do not agree with their message.

  • http://www.casimirfornalski.com Casimir

    I think a better response would have been for the atheist students to tape a refutation of each commandment on their own lockers.

  • http://www.correntewire.com chicago dyke

    yes, we members of the ACLU know they have and will continue to defend the Constitution, who is always their “only” client. they have defended neo nazis, homophobes, religious people, unpopular minorities of all kinds, etc.

    heh, i just got my renewal notice and “bill of rights bookmark” in the mail today. thanks for reminding me why i’m going to send them a check.

  • Tom

    “Remember this case when anyone accuses the ACLU of being sympathetic only to godless liberals.”

    Noted.

  • Sean

    On the locker is inappropriate because it is religious preaching which has no place at school. Inside the locker makes it personal and a much better fit for a school setting.

  • Pustulio

    It seems to me that someone should compile a list of cases such as this one, so that whenever someone starts ranting about the evil ACLU we can just refer them to that list instead of wasting our breath arguing.

  • http://kats-brain.blogspot.com/ Kat

    I think I saw this story covered on HLN earlier today. Students of other faiths were also posting messages, and I even saw some with the ubiquitous “COEXIST” sign. The ACLU’s position has been, as always, entirely sensible, and I would applaud the students for taking the initiative to post personal beliefs, so long as the intention is a peaceful expression of personal convictions. Public school teachers and administrators have a responsibility to ensure an environment where a diverse body of students can learn together and from each other. Allowing the kids their personal expression, while setting and enforcing a standard of nonviolence and respect for each other, accomplishes this goal.

  • plublesnork

    @Valhar2000

    I would think that even when religious/conservative groups do contact the ACLU, it’ll still be a liberal/secular cause. It’s somewhat inherent in the “civil liberties” part of the ACLU’s name.

    It’s the old saying about not liking someone’s speech, but vigorously defending their right to it. That’s the ACLU, right there.

  • JustSayin’

    Pustulio wrote:

    It seems to me that someone should compile a list of cases such as this one, so that whenever someone starts ranting about the evil ACLU we can just refer them to that list instead of wasting our breath arguing.

    You know, I used to have an argument with my religious grandfather over and over. And over. He’d just—completely out of the blue—mention something about the ACLU’s “trying to keep God and prayer out of the schools,” to which I would inevitably reply with my standard “Ohmygod, here we go again, that’s just ridiculous” argument.

    After one of these exercises in frustration, he casually remarked, “I wish I had a book about them [the ACLU]. I’d like to read up on the stuff they do.” Well, it just so happens that I did have an exhaustive history of the organization leading up to the late ’80s, In Defense of American Liberties: A History of the ACLU by Samuel Walker.

    So I lent it to him. I would ask for progress reports every so often from my grandmother, who’d simply laugh and say, “Nope. He hasn’t even picked it up.” (In all honesty, he wasn’t much of a reader, and understandably so, having had only a rudimentary education and having worked for nearly forty years as a coal miner in rural West Virginia.) And so this went for several years until my grandmother died and I found the book after searching their house for any small trinkets with which I’d like to remember her. I quietly took the book back into my possession and never mentioned it again.

    Neither did he.

    My point with all of this, you ask?

    Unfortunately, Pustulio, it’s all too often the case that we’re not only wasting our breath by arguing, but also by going to the trouble of providing written documentation. Sadly, in my experience, we’re no closer to winning the argument—or even having our point considered—by taking the latter route.

    For anyone who listens to the “Point of Inquiry” podcast by CFI, there was a very interesting discussion relevant to this issue on the December 17 episode from last year. Host Chris Mooney had a discussion with political scientist Brendan Nyhan regarding the guest’s writings and research into certain individuals’ (a group mostly, but not entirely, limited to conservatives) death-grip on general misperceptions, disproven scientific claims, and groundless political assertions (à la Madam Palin’s “death panels”). In the end, it wasn’t very heartening. Human nature quite regularly trumps rationality, it seems.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Sharmin

    Remember this case when anyone accuses the ACLU of being sympathetic only to godless liberals.

    I agree with you that the ACLU did the right thing here. It always bothers me when people accuse secular and civil rights’ organizations of being biased against religious people when religious people also benefit from their hard work.

  • walkamungus

    GOOOOOOO, ACLU! YEAH! :)

  • http://www.youtube.com/aajoeyjo Joe Zamecki

    Maybe the school figured out that religion is harmful. Surely they don’t think that “Happy Birthday…” and “Thou shalt have no other gods before me…” are on equal footing.

    The 10Cs aren’t actually a statement of faith either. They’re instructions given to anyone who reads them.

    I bet they’d also balk at students putting up racist statements. Religion would be worse, imho.

  • Ibis

    As long as there was no pressure from coaches or teachers directed at students to post the advocacy of slavery and misogyny Ten Commandments, this is good work by the ACLU. However, as a school admin, I’d be concerned by the motivation–was this meant as peer pressure/bullying against those who don’t choose to conform?

  • FreedToChoose

    The ACLU has a basic agenda: “defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the United States guarantee” (from http://www.aclu.org).

    I have been a member for years and heard the critics decry their agenda as being otherwise, usually by someone who felt their personal prejudices were being infringed by “those ACLU radicals.”

    It is important to remember that they must comply with the same laws and legal procedures as everyone else. Thanks for the post. Visit your state ACLU website to explore the legal actions they are currently pursuing.

  • Sebastian
  • Karmakin

    What Ibis said. While I defend the right of students to express themselves, that right does have limits, of course. I personally think that overt emotional violence is one of those limits, and it makes me wonder if that’s not what is going on here, as I see the posting of the 10 commandments in particular, often is a symbol of emotional violence against religious minorities.

    Again, this might be intended to be harmless. But then again, it might not.

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    Sebastian, you beat me to it :) Had it on my clipboard ready to paste in and everything.

  • Blacksheep

    @ Ibis,

    As long as there was no pressure from coaches or teachers directed at students to post the advocacy of slavery and misogyny Ten Commandments

    Huh?

    here they are – where’s the part that advocates slavery and misogyny?

    1. No other Gods before me
    2. No idols
    3. Don’t misuse God’s name
    4. keep the sabbath holy
    5. honor your father and mother
    6. Don’t murder
    7. Don’t commit adultry
    8. Don’t steal
    9. Don’t lie
    10. Don’t covet anything your neighbor has.

    The first four are religious, another four are cornerstones of our legal system. #5 and #10 are just good ways to live, no?

  • Baconsbud

    Blacksheep I don’t understand how you can say four of those are the cornerstone of our legal system. There are laws against some of those but they aren’t what the legal system is set up on. The legal system is set up to impose penalties for breaking those laws.

  • ACN

    Blacksheep,

    “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, wife, manservant, maidservant, ox, ass nor anything that is thy neighbor’s”
    (trimmed for brevity)

    Woman are placed on the same level as chattel. Moreover, by the wording we find that they are clearly not the one’s making the covenant with god here as they are not being addressed. It is deeply misogynistic.

    I suppose there is no explicit advocating of slavery here, so you’ve got a point with Ibis there.

    Also, I take issue with your choice of 10 commandments as well. You’ve listed the “classical 10″ but the final (curiously, the 3rd) set that god actually issued, were:

    1) Worship no foreign gods
    2) Make no idols.
    3) Celebrate the festival of unleavened bread.
    4) Six days you shall labor but on the 7th you shall rest.
    5) Celebrate the festival of weeks
    6) Do not offer blood sacrifices with leaven
    7) No one is to appear before me empty handed.
    8)The first offspring of every womb belongs to me.
    9)Bring the best of the firstfruits of the soil to the house of the lord.
    10)Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.

    These are all cornerstones of our modern legal system.

  • ckitching

    The first four are religious, another four are cornerstones of our legal system.

    So adultery and lying are illegal now? How about the fact that Exodus 20:5 and Deuteronomy 5:9 promise to curse the children of the third and fourth generation of those who produce graven images or any likeness of anything on heaven or earth. How can you just look past and ignore this idea that children are guilty of their parents crimes?

    #5 and #10 are just good ways to live, no?

    Depends.
    For #5, are your parents people who simply tried their best, or did they abuse you? If it’s the latter, I’d say they don’t deserve any respect. And we’re not supposed to honour our parents for it’s own sake, but “that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.”
    For #10, will coveting your neighbour’s possessions make you work harder to emulate him and better yourself, or simply stew in your envy until it turns into hate for the one who possesses more than you? And is it too modern to notice that “wife” is included in the list of property?

  • ff42

    I’m not quite clear on the actions. It appears that the students were putting messages on their assigned lockers, yet the principal was talking about putting messages on other’s lockers (who puts a birthday greeting on their own locker).

    While I agree that students ought to have the freedom to put non-obscene (for some definition of obscene) on their OWN lockers is it crossing the line for student A to put the 10C on student B’s locker? I think so and it appears that is where the principal is coming from.

  • Blacksheep

    @ACN,

    Also, I take issue with your choice of 10 commandments as well. You’ve listed the “classical 10? but the final (curiously, the 3rd) set that god actually issued, were:

    I know you’re having fun with Bible knowledge, but you obviously know that The 10 that I listed are the accepted and classic version of the commandments to most Christians. You also know without a doubt that these are the ones that students were posting on their lockers, which is what this debate is about. Trust me, they were not posting Old Testament Jewish laws about boiling goats in milk. I’m totally confused by your comment, “The set that God actually issued, since the classic 10 are listed again (for a second time, reinforcing the first ones) in Deuteronomy 5 followed by the verse,

    “These are the commandments the LORD proclaimed in a loud voice to your whole assembly there on the mountain from out of the fire, the cloud and the deep darkness; and he added nothing more. Then he wrote them on two stone tablets and gave them to me.”

    You also must know that when Jesus was quoting the commandments during the sermon on the mount he was referring to the classic 10, which further reinforces that version for Christians.

    Not sure why you “take issue” with that…

  • Blacksheep

    @ Ckitching

    So adultery and lying are illegal now?

    I said that they were “cornerstones” of our legal system, not that they were illegal. If you know anything about divorce law, you know that adultery plays a part. And “bearing false witness,” especially under oath, is absolutely illegal.

    Depends.
    For #5, are your parents people who simply tried their best, or did they abuse you? If it’s the latter, I’d say they don’t deserve any respect. And we’re not supposed to honour our parents for it’s own sake, but “that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.”
    For #10, will coveting your neighbour’s possessions make you work harder to emulate him and better yourself, or simply stew in your envy until it turns into hate for the one who possesses more than you? And is it too modern to notice that “wife” is included in the list of property?

    I guess we disagree. As guidelines, they are solid. I still maintain that honoring one’s parents and not being covetous of a neighbors wealth or success are good ways to live. Can you work around it to find holes in it? of course – anyone can do that!
    (What do you mean all “men” are created equal?”)

    And I don’t read “wife” as being included in the list of property, the list is meant to describe pretty much everything people are blessed with, which includes one’s wife, or one’s husband if a woman is reading the passage.

  • Blacksheep

    Blacksheep I don’t understand how you can say four of those are the cornerstone of our legal system. There are laws against some of those but they aren’t what the legal system is set up on. The legal system is set up to impose penalties for breaking those laws.

    I didn’t say they were the cornerstones of our legal system, I said they were cornerstones. Which they are: Lying, murdering, and stealing are pretty big ones!
    I’m not sure of your point.

    My point was that it is inaccurate to describe the commandments as advocating, “slavery and misogony.”

    (Not sure why this is in bold, sorry).

  • ACN

    And I don’t read “wife” as being included in the list of property, the list is meant to describe pretty much everything people are blessed with, which includes one’s wife, or one’s husband if a woman is reading the passage.

    Except that it doesn’t mention husband, and it does explicitly mention wife.

  • ACN

    I was mostly just poking fun; I am familiar enough with both the christian and jewish tradition to be aware of which list of commandments was probably being attached to the front of the lockers.

    I take issue with it because elsewhere in Exodus your interpretation is directly contradicted. The traditional ones from Exodus 20 where Moses announces the edicts to the people (or depending on how you interpret it, god speaks to them or whatever). Anyway, later Moses goes up the mountain to bring down stone tablets actually inscribed by god. He brings them down, and we’re told in Exodus 32 15-16:

    15 Moses turned and went down the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. 16 The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.

    but we are not told the explicit contents. At this point, we might presume they were the same commandments from Exodus 20. However, yadda-yadda golden calf, Moses smashes the tablets and has to go back up the mountain to get a replacement. God tells him in Exodus 34:1

    1 The LORD said to Moses, “Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I will write on them the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke.

    Ah! The tablets Moses smashed were evidently important enough to warrant replacing! So Moses goes back up the mountain, and god dictates to him the commandments I listed previously and then closes with Exodus 34:27-28

    27 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” 28 Moses was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments.

    Note the sequence of events. Unknown tablets smashed, god says he’ll replace with an identical set, moses gets the replacement which is filled with a bunch of stuff that barely correlates with the stuff we’ve taken from Exodus 20, and for some reason god seems to think this new set is really important. I didn’t think his first set were any good, and I’m particularly unimpressed by his edited final draft.

  • Baconsbud

    Blacksheep can you explain how these 4 are the cornerstone of the legal system? There are laws within the legal system for 3 of the 4 but that doesn’t make them the cornerstone of anything.

  • Blacksheep

    @Baconsbud,

    Blacksheep can you explain how these 4 are the cornerstone of the legal system? There are laws within the legal system for 3 of the 4 but that doesn’t make them the cornerstone of anything.

    Not much to explain… Thousands of our laws have, “don’t steal, don’t kill, don’t lie” at their root. Lying is at the heart of financial corruption, ponzi schemes, political scandals, etc.

    But it sounds like you want to debate semantics rather than the theme of this posting? If you have time for that, God bless.

    The reason that I “broke down” (Crudely I guess) the commandments in my original comment was to answer to an earlier post that said that the commandments could be summed up as pro slavery and anti woman. I disagreed.

  • PegK

    Other students should be posting the punishments for these particular transgressions on their lockers. If the administration allows only some bible verses to be posted and disallows others, they most certainly will have another ACLU fight on their hands. Some of the 10 commandments are highly offensive to me, as I imagine other verses from the bible would be to other people. I am all for free speech, but I certainly believe this is being used as religious bullying by many of the Xtian students. It’s hilarious when those advocating posting the 10 commandments in public places can’t even name the commandments. Furthermore, I believe court cases have already ruled that lockers are not student property therefore administration can limit what students use them for.

  • http://aurorawalkingvacation.blogspot.com Paul

    I share ff42′s sentiment. It is not entirely clear to me where the religious messages are being posted. The article in question implies (but does not explicitly state) that they were being posted by students on their own personal lockers. However, it also compares the postings to birthday greetings, which are posted on another person’s locker. I’d like the ACLU to be entirely sure of what the situation is in this case.

  • Heidi

    I’m not sire I would rank the 10 Commandments on the outside of a locker as equal to birthday wishes on the outside of a locker. I would put them more along the lines of hanging song lyrics on your locker. Do they allow that? OTOH, I would put “congratulations on your religious achievement” in the same category as birthday wishes. Like “woo, hoo! Susie’s got a solo in the choir this week at her church” or something. It’s a celebration of an event, that will come down after the event.

    Now if it was Ten Commandments Week at their church or something, I’d see it differently. But are students allowed to just randomly decorate lockers and leave them that way indefinitely? How long does a birthday message stay up? How long do these kids expect their commandments to stay up? How long would Greydon Square lyrics get to stay up?

    If this is going to be an issue, I think they should either ban everything from the outside of lockers (anything legal goes inside lockers AFAIAC), or come up with a comprehensive set of rules.


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