May 18, 2004
The American Civil Liberties Union has waged a successful battle to get a Bible verse put back into a public school yearbook.
Stevenson High School in Sterling Heights, Michigan, deleted student Abby Moler's entry from its 2001 yearbook because it was religious in nature. As valedictorian of her graduating class, Moler had submitted a biblical quote from Jeremiah 29:11 to be included in the high school yearbook.
The verse, which reads in the NIV, "'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,'" was significant to the graduating senior, and she chose its message to share with her class. However, school officials rejected the student's choice and removed it from the yearbook before sending it to print.
The ACLU took up the cause and eventually reached a settlement with the school district over its censorship of the biblical verse. The school has agreed to place a sticker with Moler's original entry in copies of the yearbook on file at Stevenson High School, and the current yearbook staff has been instructed to write her a letter of regret. Also, the yearbook staff has been ordered not to censor other religious or political speech.
ACLU of Michigan legal director Michael Steinberg explains that the school was misguided in its apparent attempt to prevent a state endorsement of religion. "Although the school itself is prohibited from promoting one religion over another, it cannot suppress private speech that was religious," he explains, "and this was clearly a situation where they were confused. It was the private speech of the student, who was a devout Christian."
Although the ACLU is often associated with arguments against religious expression in cases involving the so-called separation of Church and State, Steinberg says his group is not averse to representing Christians. "We represent people of all religions -- usually minority religions because those are the types of religions that are most often suppressed or their free exercise rights are limited," he says.
The ACLU regularly intervenes in cases in which individuals' civil rights are being denied, including "situations where you have government suppressing the private exercise of religion by individuals," Steinberg asserts.
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