It’s a shame that school systems have to be threatened with lawsuits in order to obey the law. But at least the students were allowed to express their first amendment rights to freedom of speech.
(AgapePress) - A Minnesota public high school that had banned two of its students from singing a religious song at this year’s graduation ceremonies reversed course and allowed the selection, but only after Florida-based Liberty Counsel intervened with the threat of legal action.
LaPorte High School students Aaron Reimer and Victoria Raddatz had been invited by a student-led committee to sing a song at commencement, and they had chosen “Treasure of Jesus,” a song by Steven Curtis Chapman, as their selection. However, administrators at the school informed the two teens that they could not sing their duet because of the so-called separation of church and state.
Liberty Counsel, a pro-family litigation, education, and policy organization, contacted LaPorte High School and threatened to sue if the school did not allow the students’ musical selection to be sung at graduation. The legal group also offered school officials free legal assistance should the district be sued over allowing the Christian song to be performed.
Attorney Mat Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, says young Reimer and Raddatz are to be commended. “It’s important to stand up for your rights,” he observes, “and in this case these students had a choice: either buckle because of the controversy and not sing the song, or stand up. And stand up they did.”
The good news, Staver adds, is that the two young people were able to sing their Christian song and freely express their faith in Christ at the graduation exercises. “We were able to stand with them, and the event went off as planned,” he says.
Songs with religious themes may lawfully be sung at graduation ceremonies, the pro-family attorney points out, so long as the students have selected the songs without input from faculty or staff. Under these conditions, he says, Christian songs and other expressions of religious faith do not violate the Constitution of the United States.
However, Staver notes, many educators and school officials are unaware of what the law says regarding religious expressions at graduations and many are wary of legal attacks from secularists. For that reason, he says, “We have to be eternally vigilant. We have to educate and litigate where necessary to make sure that the gospel and religious messages are not censored from the public square.”
The Liberty Counsel spokesman emphasizes that while school officials are sometimes intimidated into believing they must bar students from expressing their religious faith in speech or song at public school graduations to keep from violating the law, in fact, the opposite is true. If school districts are to stay on the right side of the law, he says students’ lawful and constitutionally protected religious expressions must be permitted.
Silencing student-initiated musical performances or other free speech at graduations on the basis of its religious content is not only insensitive, Staver asserts, but it’s also unconstitutional. When students elect a classmate to deliver a message or perform a selection of that individual’s choice, school officials may not censor the student’s religious viewpoint.