IN THE SCHOOL
Attorneys for University Alum Say University’s Ban on Any Reference to God Violates the First Amendment
WEST LAFAYETTE, IN, February 26, 2014 – Attorneys for a Purdue University alumnus, Dr. Michael McCracken, sent a letter to Purdue after the university rejected the language he had proposed for a plaque honoring his parents, in conjunction with a gift to the university. According to the letter, Purdue rejected Dr. McCracken’s proposed language for the plaque because it included a reference to “God’s physical laws.”
“The First Amendment protects Dr. McCracken’s right to refer to ‘God’s physical laws,’ ” said Dr. McCracken’s attorney, Robert K. Kelner of Covington & Burling LLP. “Purdue asked Dr. McCracken to supply language of his choice in recognition of his and his wife’s generous pledge to their alma mater. He chose language that honors the values instilled by his parents – Ed, also a Purdue alumnus, and Glenda, who recently passed away.”
The letter sent Wednesday by attorneys from Covington & Burling LLP and Liberty Institute explains that Purdue rejected Dr. McCracken’s choice of language after he and his wife made a $12,500 pledge to the university’s School of Mechanical Engineering. When asked by the university to supply the language for a plaque to dedicate a small conference room, Dr. McCracken chose an inscription that would honor the legacy of his parents: “To those who seek to better the world through the understanding of God’s physical laws and innovation of practical solutions.” Purdue rejected that language because of its concern that the plaque “more likely than not” would be deemed a government endorsement of religion, opting instead to permit a plaque mentioning Dr. McCracken’s parents without any use of the word “God.”
“Purdue’s ban on any reference to God by a private speaker violates the First Amendment of the United States Constitution,” said Jeremiah Dys, Senior Counsel to Liberty Institute. “Dr. McCracken’s plaque language is private speech that is protected by the First Amendment. Purdue allows dozens of other private speakers to express their values and views on plaques around campus; it cannot legally single out Dr. McCracken for discrimination.”
The letter asks Purdue University to restore the original language of Dr. McCracken’s plaque by March 5. If Purdue University does nothing, according to the demand letter, Dr. McCracken has authorized his legal team to preserve his First Amendment freedoms through litigation.
About Liberty Institute
Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches, in the military and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit www.LibertyInstitute.org.