The ACLJ recently assisted a high school student in quietly resolving another situation where a school official misunderstood the law. This South Carolina student was asked to deliver a prayer at her public high school graduation. However, she was told by a school official that she could not pray in the name of God or Jesus and that the school would be fined for such speech. Although situations like this are becoming more common in our public schools, in many instances, the ACLJ has been able to combat these misconceptions by correctly informing students and parents of their rights.
The Supreme Court has decided many cases surrounding this issue. One example is Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969), in which the Court stated that neither students nor teachers leave their constitutional rights to free speech at the schoolhouse gate. Another case that was argued by ACLJ attorneys is McConnell v. FEC, 540 U.S. 93 (2003), in which the Court unanimously held that minors enjoy the protection of the First Amendment.
Fortunately, many of these cases are resolved without litigation. ACLJ attorneys advised the student and her parents of their constitutional rights to free speech and expression and encouraged her to present the issue to the school. The First Amendment prohibits government officials from discriminating against speech solely on the grounds that it is religious in nature, and the Supreme Court has clearly held that minors do not check these rights at the door when they go to school.
We are happy to announce that after the student presented school officials with this information, she was allowed to pray in the name of God, and no further action was necessary. As this issue continues to arise in our schools, the ACLJ will work diligently in order to protect the right to free speech in all appropriate fora.
You can learn more about the applicable law at our Students Rights at Graduation/School Events key issues page.