After ACLU Intervention on Behalf of Christian Valedictorian, Michigan High School Agrees to Stop Censoring Religious Yearbook Entries
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
DETROIT – The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan today announced an out-of-court settlement between the Utica Community School District and a local student over the censorship of her 2001 yearbook entry. The student’s entry had been deleted from the yearbook because it contained a passage from the Bible.
“”While it is true that the Constitution forbids public schools to promote religion, schools must be careful not to suppress the private religious expression of students,”” said ACLU of Michigan Legal Director Michael J. Steinberg, who represented the student. “”In this case, a high school purported to create an open forum for student expression, yet censored a student’s speech because it was religious in nature.””
The student, Abbey Moler, was valedictorian of Stevenson High School’s class of 2001 in Sterling Heights, a town of 17,000 located 25 miles north of Detroit. She and a handful of other noteworthy graduates were profiled in a section of the yearbook listing the students’ activities and the colleges they planned to attend. In addition, each student was invited to share some words of wisdom or advice to pass on to the rest of the school.
In previous years, students’ entries in the section ranged from serious advice to humorous tidbits. Moler, a devout Christian, submitted a bible verse that she found meaningful: “”I would like to share a favorite verse that shapes my life and guides me from day to day: ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ Jeremiah 29:11 (New International Bible).””
When the yearbook was published, Moler discovered that her entry had been omitted. She and her parents complained, and were told that the school could not publish the entry due to its religious content.
“My personal relationship with Jesus Christ is the foundation of who I am, and the publication of my verse is critical to preserving student expression and First Amendment rights,”” said Moler, who is now 20 years old and studying to become a teacher. “”I received a wonderful education from the Utica Community School District, and now that I am entering the teaching profession, I wanted to do my part in maintaining excellence in public education.””
The ACLU and the school district were able to negotiate a settlement in the matter, thus avoiding the need to file a lawsuit. The terms of the settlement include the following:
- The district will place a sticker with Moler’s original entry in the copies of the yearbook on file with the school;
- The district has instructed the Stevenson High School yearbook staff not to censor students’ yearbook entries solely because they contain religious or political speech that others might find offensive;
- The district recently provided and will continue to provide in-service training and advice to school staff on free speech and religious freedom issues that arise in school;
- The district will write a letter of regret to Moler apologizing for the failure to include her entry in the yearbook.
A copy of censored yearbook page is online at http://www.aclumich.org/pressadditions/uticayearbook.jpg
A copy of the ACLU’s original letter to the school district is online at http://www.aclumich.org/pressadditions/uticayearbookletter.doc
Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.