ACLJ Assists College Student After English Professor Refuses To Accept Her Essay on Jesus

By 

Abigail A. Southerland

|

December 14, 2021

Every year, the ACLJ provides legal assistance to students across the country whose constitutional rights have been threatened or infringed upon by school officials. These students range in grades from kindergarten to college, but the facts are always similar: Their religious speech is silenced by public school officials.

One inspiring story from this fall semester involves a college student enrolled in a public college in Wyoming who reached out to the ACLJ after her English instructor refused to grade her completed assignment because she had chosen to write about Jesus. The assignment was to write a series of five essays on any topic of the student’s choosing except abortion, religious beliefs, and fantasy/fiction.

In accordance with these instructions, one student chose to write about the historical figure of Jesus. Her first essay focused strictly on the life of Jesus. In compliance with the assignment’s parameters, it did not discuss her religious beliefs (or those of others).

However, after submitting her essay for grading, she was given a “0” for the assignment and informed that she must choose a different topic.  Shortly thereafter, the student reached out to us for help. The ACLJ responded and provided her with an informational legal memorandum that addresses the topic. As we explain in this memorandum, school officials generally may not censor student expression. It is well-settled law that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

Accordingly, student assignments that include religious content or expression must be assessed on the basis of neutral academic criteria and cannot be penalized because the content is undesirable and/or offends a school official.

Following receipt of our legal memo, the student engaged the supervisor for the English department as well as one of the school’s deans and advocated for herself. She persuaded school officials to let her proceed with her topic of Jesus.

When the student reached out to let us know the good news, she stated:

It means a ton that you are willing to help me with this battle. . . . I, again, want to thank you so very much for the assistance and help! Without the support or information assistance, I would have had to switch classes, drop that class, or fail. You guys saved me a lot of struggle and headache and I am incredibly grateful!

Providing legal assistance such as this - to defend the religious liberty of U.S. citizens - is exactly why the ACLJ exists. A victory for one client is a victory for every ACLJ member, and it wouldn’t be possible without your steadfast support.

Jesus is under attack in many public education settings, particularly under the new “woke” culture which has only been emboldened by the Biden Administration. A few months ago, we told you how we came to the assistance of a public school student after her drama teacher penalized her for simply referring to Jesus in a monologue.

In that instance, we also provided the family with ample legal information, as well as the Department of Education’s own policies to refute this blatant religious discrimination. It seemed apparent that this teacher was creating guidelines for assignments based on personal feelings, and the school quickly agreed, ordering the teacher to revise the criteria for assignments and to not discriminate against the use of Jesus as a subject matter.

We will not allow academics or government bureaucrats to trample anyone’s religious freedoms due to their own personal bias.