A Colorado college has decided to kill a fundraising program that sold personalized name plates for athletic facility lockers rather than allow one to feature the Bible reference Colossians 3:23, because if people looked it up, they would find the verse includes the word “Lord.”
The Alliance Defending Freedom on Friday filed a notice dismissing its lawsuit against Colorado Mines, explaining the school had “removed all donor nameplates from its football locker room rather than allow a former football player to include a Bible reference.”
Last year, the dispute erupted when the college promoted the program without any restrictions on the messages donors were allowed to inscribe.
Donors to a new Clear Creek Athletics Complex were allowed to dictate an inscription for a personalized nameplate that would be placed in the new football locker room.
Michael Lucas, who played defensive nose tackle for the school and graduated in 2003, made a $2,500 donation and requested “Colossians 3:23 and Micah 5:9.”
But the message was rejected by the school, the ADF lawsuit explained, because one of the Bible verses includes the word “Lord.”
“CSM officials objected because they said, after the fact, that nameplate quotes could not include the words ‘Lord,’ ‘God’ or ‘Jesus’ or make reference to Bible verses that contain those words. They claimed that to allow them would be a violation of the First Amendment,” ADF said.
However, the lawyers argued that the First Amendment actually protects such speech.
Furthermore, the school’s official policy prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion.
And slogans such as “Give ‘Em Hell” and “Take your whiskey clear” were approved by the school.
On Friday, ADF confirmed the school withdrew the lawsuit after it decided “to end the fundraising program associated with the nameplates.”
The school’s president, Paul Johnson, told school supporters in a letter that the original program was canceled, and the decision was made to “remove all existing plaques.”
“All plaques have been removed, whether or not they contained a quote,” he wrote.
He said a new program with strict limits on what will be posted was being launched.
The application form for the new program specifies “No free text quotes.”
He wrote, “Mines never intended for the new locker room to be a public forum for individual expression, nor do we believe anyone could reasonably assert that a private locker room would be viewed as a public space.”
But the campus is supported by tax dollars, as are most public universities.
“Although we strongly stand behind the merits of the original fundraising program and our decision to maintain the locker room as a private space for the football program, rather than a public space for expression, we also wish to remove any potential for further misunderstanding,” he said.
That’s why there are substantial restrictions on the new program, he explained.
“Public colleges are supposed to be a marketplace of ideas, but the School of Mines has indicated it prefers anti-religious hostility,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer. “It’s ridiculous and sad that the school felt the need to punish everyone who participated in the program simply because it could not stomach a Bible reference on one plaque – a reference that was not even going to include the text of the verses.”
ADF explained the original program specifically “allowed individuals to express a personalized message on their nameplates without any stated restrictions.”
The organization said the school now “oddly claims in the letter that it didn’t intend to allow ‘individual expression.'”
“The school initially imposed no restrictions – or even guidelines – on the type of message a donor could include, and contrary to what the school argued, the First Amendment protects – not restricts – a simple reference to a Bible verse in this context,” said ADF Senior Counsel David Hacker. “Because the school apparently feared a simple Scripture reference would be like asbestos on the locker room walls, it decided to purge any trace of free expression from the facility.”
School officials had told Lucas that whatever he put on the nameplate could not include, nor could it even reference, a verse with the words “God, “Lord” or “Jesus.”
They told him: “The U.S. Constitution and our university policy prohibiting unlawful discrimination are the bases for our not permitting biblical inscriptions on the lockers. As a state university, we must be very attentive to the separation of church and state, and avoid even the appearance of promoting or supporting one particular religion or set of religious beliefs over others.”