October 1, 2009

 

Gate City High School students organized the protest after the ACLU warned school against sectarian prayers being delivered over the public address system

Gate City, VA – The ACLU of Virginia today asked the principal at Gate City High School to honor the free speech rights of students who plan to protest the ACLU at the school's football game tomorrow night.

The students are reacting to a September 15 letter from the ACLU of Virginia telling school officials that a sectarian prayer delivered over the public address system at a football game was unconstitutional.  According to news reports, the students have now produced more than 1,000 t-shirts, which they plan to wear to this Friday's game.  The front of the t-shirts shows the school's initials, a cross, and the words, "I still pray…"  On the back is, "In Jesus' name."

"Religious liberty demands that the government not impose religious views on anyone," said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis, "and free speech demands that the government allow individuals to express their views.  This means that Gate City High School officials may not permit sectarian prayers over the public address system at football games, but that they must allow students to protest the ACLU's effort to stop those prayers."

"This is not nearly as ironic as it seems, and it is certainly a wonderful opportunity for the school and the students to think about how fundamental constitutional principles are applied to real life," added Willis.
 
In the September 15 letter, ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca Glenberg warned Principal Greg Ervin that a sectarian prayer delivered over the public address system before a football game earlier that month violated a U.S. Supreme Court ruling holding that such prayers carry the impermissible endorsement of the school and coerce participation in a religious exercise by persons attending the game.  Glenberg's letter was written after the ACLU received a complaint from the parent of a student.

In today's letter, Willis writes that students are guaranteed the right of free speech, so long as the speech does not materially disrupt the educational process.  Willis points out that a football game takes place during non-instructional time and doubts that a thousand students wearing t-shirts with religious messages will be disruptive.

Glenberg's letter can be found online at: www.acluva.org/newsreleases2009/GateCityHighSchoolprayerletter.pdf.

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