Schools still trying to squelch religious expression on U.S. campuses

Thursday, May 27, 2021
Chris Woodward (

texting on smartphoneA Catholic college student who was denied his constitutionally protected right to share his faith has now been vindicated.

Florida State University has agreed to settle a lawsuit with Jack Denton, former president of the Student Senate, after the school and that student government group last year retaliated against him for sharing his personal religious beliefs with other Catholic students in a private text conversation.

"The university agreed to pay him for his lost salary for the time when he was unconstitutionally removed as president of the Student Senate there," says attorney Logan Spena of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the law firm representing Denton.

Top student instructed to stand down

Another group that defends religious freedom, First Liberty Institute, reported on Wednesday that school officials in a Michigan high school told a graduating valedictorian that she needed to remove from her speech any reference to her religious viewpoint. The school's principal has asked Elizabeth Turner to remove those references found in two paragraphs of the speech.

In response, First Liberty (in a letter) has demanded that Turner be permitted to refer to her faith during her graduation speech on June 6. The legal group has informed school officials that student graduation speeches constitute private speech, not government speech; and that private speech isn't subject to the Establishment Clause in the U.S. Constitution.

UPDATE: School retreats, valedictorian gets the victory

"[The school] also [agreed] to pay him damages to update records that improperly reflected his unconstitutional removal, and to issue a statement assuring and ensuring that students have equal access to student government positions irrespective of their religion," the attorney adds.

In his private text conversation, says ADF, Denton suggested three groups –, Reclaim the Block, and the ACLU – advocate for causes opposed to Catholic teaching; and also suggested his fellow Catholic students should be wary about financially supporting those groups. Screenshots of that conversation were then shared on social media, resulting ultimately in him being removed from his leadership position.

Spena explains that students don't forfeit their rights to free exercise of religion or free speech when they set foot on a public university campus or when they participate in student government.

"At ADF's Center for Academic Freedom, we deal with issues like this in one way or another on a very consistent basis," Spena shares. "Universities act to restrict the speech of students on campus in a number of ways, either through codes or speech zones or limiting their ability to get formed and recognized as student groups or through unfair funding practices and yes, like Jack Denton, some occasional student government issues as well."


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