A California law firm that specializes in religious freedom, parental rights and other civil liberties is asking the Liberty Union School District in Brentwood, Calif., why officials there censored “God” from a $175 advertisement parents purchased in the school’s yearbook to offer their best wishes to their son on his graduation.
Matt McReynolds, staff attorney with “the Pacific Justice Institute, told WND that there still probably is time for the school district mistake to be repaired in the yearbook, but time is running short.
The issue arose when Jeff Renner and his wife bought an ad in the Liberty Union High School yearbook, in which they wanted to tell their son: “May God bless your life,” according to the law firm.
“The only guidelines provided to those purchasing a yearbook ad were as follows; ‘Liberty Annual Staff reserves the right to change or rearrange any ad, which is not appropriate for the yearbook without notifying you. This includes but is not limited to the exclusion of photos and text.’”
The Renners were notified – by another parent – later that that parent’s ad had been altered to remove a religious reference, and when Renner contacted the district, he was told “that only religious references were prohibited, as they are not appropriate and may be offensive to others.”
“It’s surprising that some school officials seem to think they can censor religious viewpoints out of a privately-sponsored yearbook ad,” said Kevin Snider, PJI’s chief counsel. “We hope this was simply an aberration, and that the superintendent will act swiftly to recognize their error and remove the illegal censorship they have placed on these parents’ message.”
Messages left by WND for the school superintendent seeking a comment were not returned. They had changed “God” to “He” in the ad.
“We really need to get a good explanation why they would do something like this,” McReynolds told WND. “Time’s running out. They haven’t provided that yet.”
“The courts have consistently chided school officials who seek to ban all mention of God from our schools. ‘Separation of church and state’ simply does not prevent private individuals from expressing their faith, even in the public school context,” said Brad Dacus, president of the PJI.
“We are challenging any school district in the United States that decides to censor private speech simply because of its religious content,” he told WND.
The letter noted that other nearby schools have allowed such references to God, and a refund simple doesn’t take care of the offense. “It cannot compensate for this once in a lifetime opportunity to provide a lasting message to his graduating son in the high school yearbook,” the letter said.
The letter noted that the dispute involves the First and 14th Amendments, specifically the freedom of speech and religion provisions of the First and Equal Protection Clause of the 14th, and cited decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court which call for schools to allow such congratulatory message.
“A school district cannot exclude a message with underlying religious content when it allows messages on that same subject matter from a secular perspective,” the high court has concluded.
“But in this case, “In only removing religious references from message of parents who were sending an encouraging word to their son or daughter, but allowing all other messages which did not mention ‘God’ or any other religious reference, the school expressed hostility to parents’ religion and excluded messges based on the religious content. This is clearly a violation of Mr. Renner’s freedom of religion.”
The letter also notes that the school clearly has designated the yearbook a “limited public forum” at which a variety of opinions can be expressed.”
“The purpose of the Liberty Union School District’s yearbook ads were to allow parents to purchase ad space in order to express their love, pride, and congratulations to their graduating son or daughter. Mr. Renner was informed that all messages which included religious references in the message of love, pride and congratulations were excluded, on the basis of being inappropriate. This is clear evidence that Mr. Renner’s message of love, pride and congratulations to his son, which was an otherwise permissible topic, was excluded only because it contained religious references,” the letter said.
WND recently reported on another battle over censorship at a school, a battle won by the student. One of the high schools profiled in a WND report about educators censoring free speech because of its Christian and pro-life content recanted, and decided to allow the distribution of those messages on the same basis as other messages, according to a law firm involved in that disagreement.
Lawyers for the Alliance Defense Fund said Penn Cambria high school and Penn Cambria School District officials have decided that messages including those relating to the student-led Pro-Life Day of Silent Solidarity, a project of Stand True Ministries, now will be treated as other communications within the district.
No resolutions have been announced yet, however, in other cases that were profiled from Virginia and New York.
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