Prayer-Soldier writes "OneNewsNow.com reported on 21 Jun 10 that the ACLU sent a letter to Montana State University-Northern to challenge the schools inclusion of prayer during graduation. According to the report, “The letter also said the school needed to apologize for allowing a pastor to pray during the commencement.”
According to a 25 May 10 ACLU Montanta press release, “Several members of the faculty contacted the ACLU after the May 10 graduation ceremony at the school's Havre campus to report and voice their concerns over the evangelical Christian prayers given.” The release also stated, the pastor selected to give the invocation and benediction, “repeatedly referenced Jesus as personal savior in accordance with his church's alignment with the Community and Missionary Alliance.”
The ACLU press release quoted ACLU of Montana Legal Director, Betsy Griffing, who said, "Separation of church and state is a cornerstone of the U.S. and Montana constitutions. The ability to practice any faith or no faith at all goes to the essence of what it means to be a free person." Griffing continued, "MSU-Northern showed poor judgment and a lack of respect for its students, faculty and staff by overtly endorsing one specific religion at its graduation."
The First Amendment reads in part, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech,...” According to the ACLU logic, the traditional inclusion of an invocation and benediction at a state university graduation ceremony carries the full force and effect of Congress making law respecting an establishment of religion. Additionally, the remedy is to silence any prayer (a form of speech) at State University events.
In the ACLU Montana letter to university officials, the ACLU outlined the results of Supreme Court decisions and provisions of the Montana Constitution which they believe declares invocations and benedictions in the form of prayer as unconstitutional.
According to a 14 Jun 10 American Defense Fund (ADF) press release, it was related that the ADF sent their own letter to the university to counter the ACLU's letter and to reassure officials that they “can continue the school’s graduation prayer tradition.”
The 14 Jun 10 ADF letter commented that, “Unfortunately, the ACLU mischaracterized what happened at the ceremony to support its skewed understanding of the First Amendment, one that wrongly views all religious expression with a jaundiced eye.” The ADF also challenged ACLU assertions that Pastor Zerger expressed a personal relationship with Jesus or made reference to Christ as his personal Savior. The ADF letter also stated that Pastor Zerger never urged anyone to convert to Christianity.
The ADF letter also pointed out that the ACLU failed to acknowledge other aspects of the graduation ceremony, such as the Native American drum ceremony which also contained Native American religious overtones, which are not inclusive of Christian belief or the denomination of Christian belief to which Pastor Zerger subscribes. The ADF letter also pointed out that “federal courts have rejected the ACLU's latest attempt to purge public ceremonies of all things religious by inventing this distinction between 'sectarian' and 'nonsectarian' prayers.”
After its own review of case law and Constitutional interpretations, combined with practices and quotes of the founding fathers such as George Washington, the ADF concluded, “It is both lawful and wise for university officials to respect and cherish our religious heritage and to allow the invocation of God's protection, blessing and guidance on their graduates.”
According to the ADF letter, the ADF is “a not-for-profit legal alliance that defends America's first liberty – religious freedom.” The letter also states that “The ADF Center for Academic Freedom is dedicated to ensuring that religious and conservative students and faculty enjoy rights to speak, associate, and learn on an equal basis as all students and faculty.”
Cited Articles and Posts
OneNewsNow.com (21 Jun 10)
ACLU Montana (25 May 10)
ACLU Letter (24 May 10)
Alliance Defense Fund (14 Jun 10)
ADF Letter (14 Jun 10)