Thursday, May 24, 2007

Student-Initiated Prayer and Youth Minister Allowed at Graduation After All

Omaha, AR - Two members of the Omaha High School senior class, chosen by their classmates to open and close their graduation ceremony on Friday, were initially told by school administrators not to pray. School administrators similarly nixed a youth ministry leader selected by the students as the commencement speaker but changed course after the involvement of Liberty Counsel.
After school administrators announced there would be a problem with student prayer and a speaker with a religious vocation at graduation, Kendon Underwood, vice president of Omaha High's senior class, contacted Liberty Counsel to challenge the opposition seniors were facing from school officials. The students were told their opening and closing remarks could not consist of a student-initiated and student-led prayer, despite the unanimous approval of the senior class. They were also told their choice of Harrison K-Life director David Griffith to speak was unacceptable because K-Life is a Christian ministry and he might use graduation to speak about religious topics.
Liberty Counsel demanded the school district reverse that position, citing the First Amendment's prohibition on viewpoint discrimination and government censorship of free speech. The school district's attorney responded by denying the allegations and assuring Liberty Counsel that the students could pray but insisting the superintendent had the right to decide there would be no speaker at graduation. Liberty Counsel, now representing Underwood and Griffith, refused to accept the compromise solution of prayer but no speaker. The school district relented and allowed the student-initiated prayer and the student-selected speaker. Underwood gave an invocation and Griffith's remarks included references to his heroes, including Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jesus Christ, and encouraged the graduates to do worthwhile things that mattered because their lives are valuable gifts from God.
It is a shame that school officials continue to make it difficult for students to commemorate their graduations with an acknowledgement of God. Rather than being an alien to the Constitution, religious speech is a preeminent freedom.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A Tribute to Our Friend and Pastor, Jerry Falwell

Lynchburg, VA - It is with sadness and a deep sense of loss we report that Rev. Jerry Falwell passed away this morning while working in his office at Liberty University. News reports cannot begin to explain the tremendous impact this great man of vision had on his family, his community, the Nation and indeed, the world. God abundantly blessed Rev. Falwell with over 50 years of ministry at Thomas Road Baptist Church and 36 years at the helm of Liberty University.
Rev. Falwell loved God and he loved people. His convictions in biblical principles were matched by the depth of his compassion for people. He made you feel like you were the most important person in a room, even though it was filled with dignitaries. He cared for each person and he loved the students at Liberty University.
We have never known a man who had so many important obligations and commitments and yet who always had time for people. As pastor of a mega-church with a myriad of ministries, too many to mention, Chancellor of the world's largest evangelical university, founder of several national parachurch ministries, husband, father and grandfather, he always took time to stop and greet people with a genuine smile, a firm handshake (or sometimes a friendly punch in the rib cage) and a deep voice filled with wisdom and uncanny insight.
Only hours ago we were working on the final agenda for this week's graduation and hooding ceremony for Liberty University School of Law. He was looking forward to addressing the first graduating class of the law school. The School of Law was part of Rev. Falwell's vision when he founded the University in 1971. Launched in August 2004, this Saturday, May 19, 2007, marks another milestone in the history of the university, with the inaugural graduation. While he will not be physically present for this milestone event, he no doubt will be rejoicing in Heaven.
Rev. Falwell's legacy will live on in the millions of people he touched, and his vision will carry on through his family and the graduates of Liberty University. While we are missing a beloved pastor, leader and friend, his family is missing a beloved husband, father and grandfather. Our prayers are with his wife, Macel, his children, Jerry Falwell, Jr., Jonathan Falwell, and Jeannie Falwell Savas, and his grandchildren.

Monday, May 14, 2007

ACLU Cannot Force School District to Censor Seniors at Louisiana Graduation

Ouachita, LA - The graduating seniors at the six high schools in the Ouachita Parish School District voted to have a fellow student give a message during this week's graduation ceremonies. Up in arms over the possibility the students will include religious themes or prayer at graduation, the ACLU issued a letter accusing the district of "trying to do an end-run around the Constitution with the so-called student-led prayers."
The ACLU wants the district to censor prayer and religious messages from graduation, even if presented by students. The Louisiana chapter of the ACLU has intentionally ignored the distinction between school-sponsored prayer as contrasted with prayer or religious speech that is solely the decision of the students. In Adler v. Duval County School Board, Liberty Counsel successfully defended, against the ACLU, a graduation policy governing student speech. The school district implemented the legal principle established in the Adler case and, therefore, permits students to determine whether they want a fellow student to present a message. If so, the elected student is then permitted to present a message of his or her own choice.
Mathew D. Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel and Dean of Liberty University School of Law, was the lead counsel who successfully defended against the ACLU in the Adler case. The case went to the trial court twice, the federal court of appeals five times (twice before a panel of 12 judges) and to the U.S. Supreme Court twice. This case recognized that public schools are safe when they adopt an equal access policy for graduation, where students or other speakers are permitted to present a secular or religious message of their choice.
Liberty Counsel's "Friend or Foe" Graduation Prayer Campaign seeks to educate and, if necessary, litigate to ensure that prayer and religious views are not suppressed during graduation.
As long as there are graduations, there will be times when prayer and religious messages are part of the ceremonies. Religious viewpoints cannot be excluded from graduation ceremonies. When the message is the choice of the student or the speaker, religious viewpoints, including prayer, are permissible. The ACLU is wrong – schools must not censor private religious speech from graduation."

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

School District Ordered to Pay Damages for

Greenville, SC - The Anderson School District has been ordered by a federal appeals court to pay $99,776.74 in attorney's fees and costs for censoring Child Evangelism Fellowship. The court ruled in a unanimous 3-0 opinion, in Child Evangelism Fellowship v. Anderson School District Five, that the South Carolina school district violated CEF's constitutional rights by charging the group a fee while allowing other groups to use district facilities at no cost. Liberty Counsel represents CEF of South Carolina, which sponsors after-school "Good News Clubs" in elementary schools.
CEF was charged a fee to use school facilities, although the district waived fees whenever deemed "in the best interest of the district." Fees were waived for the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, YMCA, Students Against Destructive Decisions, the local Democratic Party, and a host of other groups, but no waiver was extended to the Good News Clubs. After filing suit, the district changed its policy and sought to "grandfather" free use to the previously authorized groups.
The appeals court ruled the district policy unconstitutional, stating that "government may not bar religious perspectives on otherwise permitted subjects ... [and] communities of faith may not be arbitrarily excluded from the protections of the Free Speech Clause ... Government need not fear an Establishment Clause violation from allowing religious groups to speak under the same reasonable, viewpoint-neutral terms as other private parties ... In sum, speech is not to be selectively permitted or proscribed according to official preference." This case represents a significant legal precedent, because it requires speech-restrictive policies to contain clear standards to prevent government officials from engaging in viewpoint discrimination, much like the case law that has developed to govern prior restraints on speech.
Mathew D. Staver, Founder of Liberty Counsel and Dean of Liberty University School of Law, who argued the case on appeal after breaking his hand in an automobile accident a few hours before, stated: "This decision marks the end of a three-year battle to preserve Child Evangelism Fellowship's constitutional rights. The court of appeals hit the bull's-eye. School officials should take notice. Equal access is the law, and equal access means equal treatment in every respect. Good News Clubs teach respect, morality and character development. Instead of hassling Good News Clubs, schools should embrace the clubs. These clubs make a positive difference in the lives of children.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Annual "Friend or Foe" Graduation Prayer Campaign Finishes Fifth Successful Season

On May 7, 2007, Liberty Counsel announced its fifth annual "Friend or Foe" Graduation Prayer Campaign. On the website www.LC.org is a detailed legal memorandum that has been used to successfully defend students' right to have voluntary, student-initiated prayer at graduation ceremonies all across the nation. Liberty Counsel seeks to educate and, if necessary, litigate to ensure that prayer and religious viewpoints are not censored from public school graduations. Two examples of this season's successes include:

School administrators at West Morris Mendham High School in Chester, New Jersey, planned to censor the song "The Lord Bless You And Keep You," from the June 26th graduation program until Liberty Counsel intervened on behalf of choir member Lauren Ide. The students and parents at the school were upset that the song, which was traditionally a part of the program, was being banned. After Liberty Counsel issued a demand letter, school district officials decided to allow the choir to sing the song at graduation.

Two Omaha High School seniors in Omaha, Arkansas, were initially told by school administrators not to pray at their May 18th graduation. The school also nixed a youth ministry leader who was selected by the students as the commencement speaker. After involvement of Liberty Counsel on behalf of class vice president Kendon Underwood, the students were allowed to pray and to have their chosen graduation speaker.

This year many students began wearing Liberty Counsel's red "I WILL PRAY" wristbands as a reminder to pray all year round, not just at graduation.

Students and invited speakers do not shed their constitutional rights when they step up to the graduation podium. School officials should neither command students to pray nor prohibit them from praying. When in doubt, remain neutral and allow the speaker to present a message of his or her own choice.

Impact of Annual "Friend or Foe" Graduation Prayer Campaign Continues to Grow

Orlando, FL - The launch of Liberty Counsel's "Friend or Foe" Graduation Prayer Campaign is being announced again this year by Mathew Staver, the Founder of Liberty Counsel and the Dean of Liberty University School of Law, and Dr. Jerry Falwell, the Founder and Chancellor of Liberty University. Liberty Counsel seeks to educate and, if necessary, litigate to ensure that prayer and religious views are not suppressed during graduation ceremonies across the Nation.
Last year Liberty Counsel represented Megan Chapman, a graduating senior in Russell Springs, Kentucky, who found herself the subject of a court order obtained just before graduation by the ACLU. The order said she could not pray during her graduation message, although she was chosen as class chaplain. But the lawsuit generated more, not less, prayer. During the ceremony the entire senior class rose and recited the Lord's Prayer. Then Megan stepped to the podium and told her classmates what God had done for her and shared her faith in Him. After hearing about the situation through Liberty Counsel, Dr. Falwell offered both Megan and her twin sister Mandy full scholarships to attend Liberty University. Megan is finishing her first year of college at Liberty University, where she volunteers at Liberty Counsel's Virginia office. After graduation, she now plans to attend Liberty University School of Law.
As part of this year's Graduation Prayer Campaign, Liberty Counsel has created red prayer wristbands which students can wear as a reminder to pray at graduation and all throughout the school year. The wristbands are embossed with "I WILL PRAY" and "PRAY WITHOUT CEASING - I THESS. 5:17." Students have the constitutional right to wear religious jewelry and to pray during noninstructional times while at school. Liberty Counsel also has a free legal memo on graduation prayer which is available online at www.LC.org.
In order to receive federal funds under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, every local school district must certify that it is not engaging in any policy or practice which interferes with constitutionally protected prayer. Schools may lose federal funds if they fail to comply with the guidelines.
The purpose of Liberty Counsel's 'Friend or Foe' Graduation Prayer Campaign is to protect religious viewpoints at graduation. Liberty Counsel will be the friend of schools that recognize the free speech rights of students and the foe of those that violate their constitutional rights. The key to graduation prayer is that the school should remain neutral - neither commanding nor prohibiting voluntary prayer or religious viewpoints."

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

School District Reverses Suspensions Against Students Who Were Praying

********The students will begin praying today, May 1, which is significant
for some of the Russian immigrant students, as this is "May Day,"
the day the former Communist Soviet Union celebrated Communism

Vancouver, WA - Twelve Heritage High School students, who were suspended in March for praying together in the large commons area of their cafeteria, have been vindicated. Liberty Counsel represented several of the students in an appeal of the suspensions to the Evergreen School District. As a result, the suspensions will be purged from their files and there will be no negative impact on their academic records.

The District has also agreed to recognize the students' right to pray in the cafeteria when other students are gathered there before school. The cafeteria commons area is a large area that will easily accommodate groups as large as 20 students without blocking access for other students. In addition, the students will be provided a room to start a club.

The students will begin praying today, May 1, which is significant for some of the Russian immigrant students who were suspended, as this is "May Day," the day the former Communist Soviet Union celebrated Communism.

A few weeks before their suspension, the students tried to start a prayer club to meet before school, but they met with resistance from Vice Principal Alex Otoupal. Since the students understood that the school would not permit a club, they decided to gather together as individuals in the cafeteria before school to pray, but they were sent outside in the cold by the vice principal after one Satanist student complained to school officials. After the students insisted on praying in the cafeteria, they were suspended.
Students have the constitutional right to gather together to pray before school, just as they can gather to discuss sports, music or movies. In these days of discord and violence, schools should know better than to ban students from praying. What a terrible message would have been sent to these students, some of whom immigrated from the Communist Soviet Union. Now they have learned that one person can make a difference in America when standing up for religious freedom."