Liberty Counsel Sends Guidebook to Schools

Liberty Counsel Sends Guidebook to Schools August 16, 2012

The badly misnamed Liberty Counsel is sending a guidebook to every public school in the country that informs them of what the law says — or at least what they imagine the law says — when it comes to church/state issues. The Worldnutdaily is promoting the project:

Every public school in America is about to receive a wake-up call that will eliminate any excuse for stomping on students’ and teachers’ religious liberty…

But now Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, has announced it is sending 99,750 copies – one for literally every public school in America – of an exhaustive guide on religious liberty in school to principals, vice principals and school administrators around the country. Thousands of sponsors have made the mass mailing possible.

“Over the past few years, Liberty Counsel has seen a surge of complaints from school administrators, educators and students, whose rights were egregiously violated,” said the organization in a statement. “Secular activists attempt to remove religious expression from our public schools, indoctrinate students in alternative lifestyles and bully through intimidation and blatant misrepresentation. To be proactive in countering this growing threat, Liberty Counsel developed and distributed the ‘Patriot’s Handbook of Religious Freedom in Public Schools.’

“This booklet,” the organization explains, “clarifies the rights of students to pray, form Bible clubs and engage in religious expression in public schools, including holiday celebrations and the rights of teachers, parents and guardians.” …

Liberty Counsel’s goal in distributing the “Patriot’s Handbook of Religious Freedom in Public Schools” is to dramatically reduce the number of instances when school administrators erroneously censor or punish religious expression. By having the guidebook in hand or on file, the organization hopes, schools will look to sound advice on protecting religious liberty when confronted by activist organizations that demand students, teachers or community groups be silenced.

I haven’t read the guide, so I have no idea how accurate it is; given LC’s terrible record of dishonesty on such issues, I’d be willing to bet it’s got some real problems. But I also predict that it won’t do any good. You see, this is not a new idea. In the mid-90s, the ACLU got together with a couple dozen other organizations, including religious right legal groups, put together a similar publication and sent it to every public school in America. The Clinton administration did the same thing. Yet we still see frequent violations of both the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause. In my experience, this usually happens because of ignorance on the part of administrators or ideological zealotry on the part of school boards.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Sastra

    Too often the “right to pray” is interpreted as the “right to have an audience.”

  • Ben P

    Too often the “right to pray” is interpreted as the “right to have an audience.”

    Well a student can pray, and a student can have an audience. A student can even pray in front of an audience.

    However, the school can’t officially sponsor or encourage the prayer or compel (explicitly or implicitly) students to attend the gathering where the prayer is occurring. The precise borderline is clear in some cases but is very murky in others.

    Knowing liberty counsel’s usual tactics I suspect the guide is chock full of advice about how to host religious gatherings or allow religious groups to speak on campus without exposure to lawsuits.

    For example, a public school probably cannot have an official prayer or invocation at its graduation ceremony, but if it gives the valedictorian or student council president 3 minutes to speak and doesn’t review their speech beforehand? It’s close but the school could win that case.

  • Doug Little

    but if it gives the valedictorian or student council president 3 minutes to speak and doesn’t review their speech beforehand? It’s close but the school could win that case.

    Isn’t a graduation ceremony a case of where there is a captive audience and since the ceremony is being run by the school it is responsible for it’s content?

  • tubi

    I have a child starting K this fall and another entering 2nd. I’m on the PTO for the school and also the district’s Legislative Action Team. I emailed the Principal this morning advising him that this might happen and asking to see the booklet if he gets one. He’s pretty cool about stuff like that, so I’m sure he’ll let me know if it comes in.

    I’d rather do that than order one from LC for $3.

  • eric

    Doug,

    My guess is that the legality of such a rule would come down to the specific facts of the case. A (hypothetical) school with a couple years’ of radical non-religious student speeches under its belt has probably sufficiently demonstrated that it really intends to have a “not associated with the school” segment of the ceremony. A student’s pro-Christian speech in that case might not upset a judge. A school in which, somehow, coincidentally, only pro-Christian speeches ever get “independently” selected is going to have a much more difficult time of it.

  • John Hinkle

    I’m sure the guidebook contains no $olicitation$ for anything else, right?

  • Chiroptera

    Doug Little, #3: Isn’t a graduation ceremony a case of where there is a captive audience and since the ceremony is being run by the school it is responsible for it’s content?

    It is, but it isn’t.

    As far as I know, no school (or at least very few of them) make attendence at the graduation ceremony mandatory. The graduation ceremony is a purely voluntary activity; students who do not take part still graduate and still get their diplomas.

    But seeing how so few students opt out of it, and how most people see it as important, courts could very well decide that this is a “distinction without a difference.”

  • greg1466

    Well, they certainly don’t waste anytime. They start off with a poisoning the well fallacy right there in the title. Doesn’t tend to make me think that the information provided inside gets any better.

  • Doug Little

    Chiroptera @7,

    Oh OK, good to know, I wasn’t sure not having gone to high school here in this country.

  • d cwilson

    but if it gives the valedictorian or student council president 3 minutes to speak and doesn’t review their speech beforehand? It’s close but the school could win that case.

    And if the valedictorian uses it to say, “Jesus had nothing to do with my success. I did it all through hard work,” I’m sure everyone would be cool with that, right?

  • Doug Little

    eric @5,

    So if the school is deciding which speeches can be heard during the ceremony then aren’t they in fact endorsing such speeches simply by selecting them? Also I don’t get why you would think that just because a school selects speeches that are radical but non-religious this makes it OK to then select one that does contain an endorsement of a particular religion.

  • Ben P

    As far as I know, no school (or at least very few of them) make attendence at the graduation ceremony mandatory. The graduation ceremony is a purely voluntary activity; students who do not take part still graduate and still get their diplomas.

    An official school sponsored prayer at a graduation wouldn’t be much different than say, an official school sponsored prayer at a graduation. Both are prohibited as they constitute an establishment of religion. Although both events are “voluntary,” it violates the rights of students because it forces them to choose.

    Likewise, if the school were to invite an explicitly religious speaker to give an explicitly religious message at a school assembly, and the choice is that you can attend the assembly or sit in study hall, that’s probably a violation.

    On the other hand, if the school invites a commencement speaker and doesn’t exercise any control over the content of his speech, you’ve probably got a fact question. If, for example the speaker is a well known pastor, and school officials admit they invited him specifically because he would offer a religious speech, maybe a violation.

  • Ben P

    So if the school is deciding which speeches can be heard during the ceremony then aren’t they in fact endorsing such speeches simply by selecting them? Also I don’t get why you would think that just because a school selects speeches that are radical but non-religious this makes it OK to then select one that does contain an endorsement of a particular religion.

    Again, depends.

    If school tradition is that the valedictorian always gets a 5 minute speech, and the school doesn’t pre-approve the content, the the student gives an explicitly religious speech, I see a difficultly proving a case against the school.

    Likewise, if the school invites a prominent political figure to make the commencement speech and he, without telling the school, gives a speech that tells students they should “trust in god,” still difficult to claim it’s an establishment.

    On the other hand, if the school invites a pastor, you have a better case.

  • I believe this is what they call marketing. They are trying to drum up customers for the Liberty Council. The more stupid they spread, the more schools violate the constitution, the more money tey make.

  • I actually am not that alarmed since they send up all the same red flags as junk mail or junk phonecalls. They’re not at all subtle or clever. With all the crap being marketed to us I think our thresholds are pretty high and so liberty needs something better than this. I think they wasted their money, but then, even if they only trapped a single school it’s a bad win for the rest of us.