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Alliance Defending Freedom’s Top University Victories of 2012

We have a lot to be thankful for this year at Alliance Defending Freedom as our clients prevailed time and again in cases across the country.  Here’s a recap of the top university victories in 2012:

Julea Ward – As Jeremy wrote recently, Julea Ward scored a big victory when she settled her case against Eastern Michigan University.  Her case shows that the freedom to believe is still a critical component of our constitutional liberties.  As Jeremy said, the appellate court ruling in her favor “will have a lasting impact on the right of college students to live out their lives according to the dictates of their faith.  It clearly sets out that public universities ‘cannot compel students to alter or violate their belief systems . . . as the price for obtaining a degree,’ which is precisely what EMU was demanding Julea do.”

OSU Student Alliance – The Ninth Circuit handed down a resounding victory for independent student press on college campuses in OSU Student Alliance v. Ray.  Public universities cannot relegate these papers to second-class status and expect to get away with it.  This case will continue in 2013, so watch for updates.

Bronx Household of Faith – While not technically a university case, several Alliance Defending Freedom university lawyers are working on this case to protect equal access to government facilities.  New York City has a no-worship policy that it is trying to use to block a church from renting its facilities after school hours, like all other community groups can.  A federal district court struck down the policy in June, finding that it violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.  This case is more than a decade old and was recently argued to the federal appellate court in New York City, so stay tuned for what happens next.

Florida Christian College – Just last month, Florida Christian College settled its suit against the State of Florida over a tuition grant program.  The state refused to allow FCC students to participate in the tuition grant because the state viewed FCC as “non-secular” and “too religious.”  In other word, FCC students lost out on the tuition assistance, while everyone else did not.  That is no longer the case.

Texas Aggie Conservatives – A group of conservative students at Texas A&M University thought it was unfair that they could not access student organization funding simply because they were part of a political group, but virtually all other student groups could access those funds.  They sued A&M and got the university to remove its discriminatory ban on funding religious and political student groups.

Young Americans for Freedom – Another group of conservative students, this time in Florida, were restricted from distributing flyers on campus.  They successfully settled their case this year, which enabled spontaneous student speech, removed speech zones on campus, and limited a college speech code.

Nationwide Letter Campaign – We also sent letters to over a hundred public universities from coast to coast detailing unconstitutional speech policies on their campuses.  As of today, we received 27 favorable responses indicating that those universities revised their policies to protect student speech.

Aside from these critical wins, we were successful countless other times in situations you may never hear about.  But those victories were just as critical for preserving the religious liberty of the individuals involved in them, and for that we are thankful.

We hope and pray that 2013 brings more victories for student speech on campus.

Author

ADF Senior Legal Counsel - University Project

Florida Department of Education: No First Amendment Problem with Religious Discrimination

Posted on June 15th, 2012 School Choice | 1 Comment »

According to the Florida Department of Education, its financial punishment of college students who choose a school with a “religious purpose” does not even implicate the First Amendment.  Moreover, contends the Department, the First Amendment has nothing to say about its segregation of schools into disfavored “too religious” and favored “not too religious” categories.

Those remarkable arguments lie behind Department officials’ recent request that a federal district court throw out a civil rights lawsuit filed against them by Florida Christian College and certain of its students.  Represented by Alliance Defense Fund attorneys, FCC and the students commenced litigation in March, asserting that their exclusion from the Florida Resident Access Grant (FRAG) program violated their First Amendment rights.  It is well-settled that the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause prohibits government from penalizing conduct based on its religious purpose or motivation.  It is similarly clear that government officials may not “pick and choose” among religious organizations, favoring some and disfavoring others based on an assessment of their relative “religiosity.”

Despite settled law, Department officials moved to dismiss the case on June 1, contending that the First Amendment simply does not prohibit the sort of religious discrimination in which they have engaged.  ADF will continue defending the rights of FCC and its students, asking the court to reject the Department’s request to throw the case out.  And we can all hope that the Florida Department of Education—and the courts—will see the importance of ending the sort of unjust religious discrimination on display in this case.

Author

Illegal discrimination against Christians on public university campuses is pervasive and must be confronted. The Constitution has something to say about this—and so should you. Speak Up

Florida Christian College Challenges Exclusion from State Aid Program

Florida Christian College (FCC) and five of its students filed suit against the State of Florida March 8, challenging their religion-based exclusion from the Florida Resident Access Grant (FRAG) program.  My colleagues and I at the Alliance Defense Fund are privileged to represent them.

Through the FRAG program, the state provides over $2,000 in annual tuition assistance to qualifying students who attend private colleges and universities in the state.  In order to participate, a student must attend a college that has ”a secular purpose.”  Officials with the state Department of Education concluded that FCC lacked “a secular purpose” and excluded the college and its otherwise eligible students from the program.  FCC includes within its educational program “secular” subjects and prepares many of its students for “secular” vocations.

When writing the FRAG statute, the Florida legislature misunderstood the First Amendment’s ban on laws “respecting an establishment of religion.”  Interpreting that language, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that government benefit programs may include religious individuals and organizations as long as (among other things) the programs have “a secular purpose.”   When it adopted the statute governing the FRAG program in 1989, the Florida legislature misunderstood this constitutional rule, erroneously requiring each participating school – rather than the program as a whole itself – to have “a secular purpose.”

Compounding the problem, the Department has not applied the constitutionally erroneous statute consistently, excluding FCC while allowing nine other religious schools and their students to participate:  Clearwater Christian College, Palm Beach Atlantic University, Southeastern University, Warner University, Ave Maria University, Saint Leo University, Bethune-Cookman University, Edward Waters College, and St. Thomas University.  Students at a total of 31 institutions of higher education are eligible.

Revealing yet more irrationality in the Florida student aid system, only two of the approximately 16 student aid program statutes exclude students because of the religious character of the institution they attend or of their course of study.  Indeed, FCC students themselves participate in four programs other than FRAG.  In light of this – and the participation of nine religious schools in the FRAG program — the state plainly lacks any legitimate interest in excluding FCC and its students from FRAG.

FCC has been trying for years to persuade the Florida Department of Education to stop discriminating against its students.  The Department has rejected its effort, even failing to justify or explain its unfair treatment of FCC students – who suffer a $2000 penalty simply for choosing FCC.

In light of the state’s ongoing refusal to right this wrong, attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida on behalf of FCC and FCC students Brittany Betancourt, Katrene DeLoach, Alicia Hoffman, Kelley Reinoehl, and Luke Stamps.  We hope that the lawsuit will prompt the Department to quickly do what it should have done years ago – stop discriminating against students who have chosen a particular religious college.

Author

ADF Senior Counsel - University Project

Court Upholds Indiana School Choice Program

Posted on February 8th, 2012 School Choice | 1 Comment »

Indiana’s school voucher program does not violate the state constitution, a state court ruled January 13.

In 2011, the Indiana General Assembly created the Choice Scholarship Program.  Qualifying families receive vouchers, which they may redeem at private schools, both secular and religious.  A collection of taxpayers sued, alleging that the program violated three provisions of the Indiana constitution.  The Marion County Circuit Court granted summary judgment to the defendants on all three claims.

The court first held that the program did not violate Article 8, Section 1 of the Indiana Constitution, which requires the state General Assembly to “encourage, by all suitable means, moral, intellectual, scientific and agricultural improvement” and to “provide, by law, for a general and uniform system of Common Schools.”  The court reasoned that the imposition of this latter duty did not preclude the legislature from satisfying the first duty through means other than the public school system.

The court then held that the program did not violate Article 1, Section 4, which forbids “compelled support” of houses of worship and other ministries.  The court observed that this provision was primarily designed to protect citizens from forced tithing.

Finally, the court rejected the plaintiffs’ contention that the Choice Scholarship Program violated Article 1, Section 6 of the Indiana Constitution, which declares: “No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution.”  The court observed that the money in question was not “for the benefit of any religious  or theological institution,” but instead for the benefit of parents and children exercising educational choice.  Any benefits religious schools received were merely “incidental” to the accomplishment of the state’s educational goals.

Significantly (for Christ-centered colleges and universities and their students), the court observed that a contrary reading of Article 1, Section 6 would jeopardize higher education tuition assistance programs that allow students to direct their aid to religious colleges and universities.
The Alliance Defense Fund and its allied attorneys represent certain of the Christian schools participating in the program.  An appeal is expected.

Author

ADF Senior Counsel - University Project

In Loco Parentis? Will The Real Parents Please Stand Up.

Posted on October 21st, 2011 Public Schools,School Choice | 10 Comments »

The Latin phrase in loco parentis literally means “in the place of parents” and has been referred to loosely by courts as the place held by local schools when students are in attendance. But this concept is being taken too far by public school officials.

One recent example involved school officials in Hartford Public Schools who hosted a play promoting homosexuality as normal and showing heterosexuals as outcasts. One scene in the play also showed two boys kissing.

Photo Credit: MICHAEL McANDREWS

These officials, in all of their arrogance, took it upon themselves not to notify parents ahead of time because they thought that students needed to learn empathy toward homosexuals and that they should be exposed to things that would make them uncomfortable. Wait just a second, so these school officials purposefully hid this from parents so that they could expose kids to it? Incredible. Every parent should be outraged. It shouldn’t matter what parents would have ultimately decided regarding their own children. What should matter to all parents is that school officials decided to hide this from them, in a flagrant dismissal of their rights and their role in training their children. And is this the job of public schools? To expose our children to sexual issues of the school official’s choosing that make our children uncomfortable? Is that what we, as parents, pay our taxes to support?

One principal, David Chambers, apparently proud of his decision not to send an opt-out letter to parents in advance, was cited in a local paper, the Hartford Courant, as stating that the “reaction [by the students] of disgust was a good sign.” Adam Johnson, another principal, stated that he was “glad” they did so. So this is who we have teaching our children? Principals who not only fail to respect our roles as parents as to how we think best to raise our kids, but who deceptively keep us in the dark regarding how they wish to raise our kids.

It comes as no surprise that the play was a collaborative effort with a local group True Colors which claims to meet the needs of “sexual minority youth”—three words that don’t belong together. Nor does it come as much of a surprise that there has been a community outcry. What does come as a surprise, however, is that no punishment has been meted out against these principals for their poor leadership and decision-making, and for their usurping the roles of local parents.

It’s no wonder that school choice is all the rage. These school officials need to be taught a lesson that schools are for teaching the 3 R’s, not for indoctrinating our children in what they think is sexually appropriate. Parents should overwhelm this District with complaints until appropriate action is taken to ensure that school officials understand their proper role. They apparently do not.

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