FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Ruling is a Victory for Religious Expression Rights, ACLU Says
NEWARK, NJ - The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey today praised a decision by U.S. District Court Judge Freda L. Wolfson protecting the religious expression rights of students. The court held that a Frenchtown Elementary School student had the right to sing the song "Awesome God" at a school talent show. The ACLU of New Jersey submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the student.
"The ACLU has a long-standing dedication to defending religious freedom," said ACLU of New Jersey Executive Director Deborah Jacobs. "We are proud to help secure this child's right to sing a religious song at the talent show."
The second-grade student wanted to sing the song "Awesome God" in a voluntary, after-school talent show. School officials refused to allow her to sing the song, saying it would give the impression that the school favored religion.
In its brief, the ACLU of New Jersey argued that no reasonable observer would have believed that the school endorsed the religious message behind the student's song, and that the school therefore had no right to deny her choice of song. The talent show was open for anyone from kindergarten through 8th grade who wished to play a solo instrument, dance, perform a skit or sing to karaoke. Students were permitted to select their own songs or skits. Consistent with ACLU arguments, the court held that because the school allowed students to choose their own songs, they could not reject the student's choice of song because of its religious content.
"We're pleased that today's decision helps ensure that a student's constitutional right to freely express her religious views is protected," said ACLU cooperating attorney Jennifer Klear of the law firm Drinker, Biddle & Reath. "The court upheld an important distinction between religious expression that is initiated or expressed by school officials and speech that is initiated by individual students. Schools cannot censor student-initiated speech at after-school talent shows and other public forums."
The ACLU of New Jersey has participated in other cases involving the right of individual religious expression, including recently helping to ensure that jurors are not removed from jury pools for wearing religious clothing and that prisoners are able to obtain religious literature.
For other cases in defense of religious freedom filed by ACLU affiliates nationwide, go to www.aclu.org/religion/govtfunding/26526res20060824.html