Professor M. Shefchik
3 June 2005
“In God We Trust”
Throughout the history of the world, nations have structured their societies, lived, and died in the name of their god. While religious beliefs and practices vary from society to society, no known society in the history of mankind has existed without practicing or believing in some form of religion. Faith in a higher power has long been considered essential to provide psychological security and understanding to humans in times of crisis such as death, disease and other struggles of life. The United States of America is no exception. In America, we can see throughout history, as well as today, how the Christian faith has inspired our government and contributed to our popular culture.
As the Pilgrims prepared to land at Cape Cod on November 11, 1620, they drafted a basic compact in which they expressed their intents for the new colony. They wrote:
“In the name of God, amen. We whose names are underwritten… Having undertaken, for the glory of God and advancement of the Christian faith… and honor or our King and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God…”(Crismier 60).
For many people, propagating Christianity and seeking religious freedom from the Church of England were primary reasons they braved the treacherous, sixty-six day, Atlantic crossing to come to America. They made the long journey knowing they were only given a fifty-fifty chance of survival. Over a hundred years later, to protect their new found freedom thousands of settlers lost their lives fighting against the British Army in the Revolutionary War. America won the war against England and on July 4, 1776, she officially declared her independence.
After the colonies were established, we can see how the Christian religion inspired our founding fathers and government leaders by looking at the acts, quotes, and excerpts from their letters and historical documents regarding political matters. In 1774, the first assembly of the Congressional Congress was held; the first official act was a call to prayer. Three of the thirty-six congressional representatives opposed the prayer. Because the group was composed of men from diverse religious sentiments, such as Episcopalians, Quaker, Anabaptist, Presbyterians and Congregationalists it was felt they could not join in the same act of worship. (Ford) However, after discussion, it was agreed they collectively stood for the same principals and ultimately worshiped the same god. With mutual understanding of their differences, prayers were read respecting the varied denominations (Davis). Prayer occurred as a custom practice in federal government assemblies and could be seen throughout state government as well.
After drafting the Declaration of Independence, Samuel Adams stood up and said to the colonists “We have, this day restored the Sovereign, to whom alone, men ought to be obedient.” Later Adams went on to say, “The rights of the colonists as Christians are best understood by reading and carefully studying the New Testament” (Williams)
Adams was not alone in his allegiance to God. The founding fathers were devoted Christians as well. We can see through their private and political works divine inspiration. Now, independent from England, the task of forming a new government was at hand. In 1787, fifty-five delegates who are referred to as the founding fathers wrote the U.S Constitution. The unanimous basis for the Constitution can be summarized in the Constitution’s preamble:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Our leaders looked to the Bible for inspiration and guidance. The scripture from the Bible, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Corinthians 3:7), was taken to heart. A strong religious belief, professed by the founding fathers, influenced the government and its people to believe the absolute necessity of recognizing that their god is the only true granter of liberty. The blessings, mentioned in the U.S Constitution preamble were believed to be a gift from God. As evidence that our founding fathers and early leaders understood the interplay of religion and government, note the following quotations: (www.alliancedefensefund.org)
George Washington: “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.”
Thomas Jefferson: “The Bible is the cornerstone of liberty. . . . Students’ perusal of the sacred volume will make us better citizens, better fathers, and better husbands.”
Andrew Jackson: “That Book [the Bible] is the rock on which our Republic rests.”
Ulysses S. Grant: “Hold fast to the Bible. . . . To the influence of this Book we are indebted for all the progress made in true civilization and to this we must look as our guide in the future.”
Christian settlers did not forget the religious oppression they themselves suffered under the Church of England. They knew how valuable religious freedom was as well as the importance of keeping the government out of the churches affairs. In 1791, four years after the U.S. constitution was created, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was implemented:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
The First Amendment, among other rights, gave our country the freedom to practice any chosen religion or no religion without prosecution. In addition to individual freedom, the First Amendment protected the church from government interference. Thomas Jefferson was a vocal proponent against the government establishing and enforcing a national church. Below is an excerpt of Thomas Jefferson’s writings from the Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom:
"Almighty God has created the mind free and manifested His supreme will that free it shall remain by making it altogether insusceptible of restraint... All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens or by civil incapacitations tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion who, being Lord of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in His Almighty power to do, but to extend it by its influence on reason alone.”
Jefferson was known to be an uninhibited intellect. Although raised Episcopalian, he studied various religions and encouraged exploration of the truths. Jefferson’s philosophies have been brought into the never-ending debate over the separation of church and state. However, Jefferson’s opinion about God still speaks; for his words are inscribed on the Jefferson Memorial in our nation’s capital: “God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?”
Our government was founded and developed by men of Christian faith. Like Jefferson, the federal government recognized the importance of God. However, the government would be hypocritical to enforce their beliefs through law and prosecution. If people chose to stray from the Christian majority, it was their given right to do so. Nevertheless, the government, as a whole, stood firm on the belief that God was their divine ruler. In addition to the federal government, forty-seven states also recognized a supreme higher power, to whom they gave homage. In the state’s acknowledgement of the U.S. Constitution, they professed their faith in God; below are just a few examples:
California 1879, Preamble. We, the People of the State of California, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom ...
North Carolina 1868, Preamble. We the people of the State of North Carolina, grateful to Almighty God, the Sovereign Ruler of Nations, for our civil, political, and religious liberties, and acknowledging our dependence upon Him for the continuance of those ...
West Virginia 1872, Preamble. Since through Divine Providence we enjoy the blessings of civil, political and religious liberty, we, the people of West Virginia reaffirm our faith in and constant reliance upon God ...
In all of the forty-seven sates’ acknowledgments to the U.S Constitution, they professed their dependence and gratitude to God in similar fashion to the examples above. Both the federal and state government believed God to be their sovereign ruler and the granter of liberty. The government knew the significance God had to the people; and how important He was in maintaining a moral society. James Madison, the chief architect of the U.S. Constitution, said, “We have staked the whole of our political institution on the capacity of mankind to govern themselves according to the ten commandments of God” (Benjamin 18). It is clear, through historical documents, that the Christian religion inspired the leaders of America to create a government and culture based on Biblical teachings and Christian principles.
Over two hundred years later, we can still see the Christian heritage alive in our government and society today. In our government, we see religion in our laws, political leader’s actions, and public institutions. Laws concerning same sex marriage, sodomy, death penalty, prostitution, bestiality, and abortion, just to name a few, are all implemented to not only protect others but to enforce a moral society based on Biblical teachings. Congress creates statutory law. Today, every meeting of Congress opens with a prayer to God for his guidance and blessings. A publicly acknowledged allegiance is seen between our government leaders and God. For example, in Presidents George H. Bush’s inaugural speech, his first act as President was to ask all to bow their heads and pray. He publicized the following words for the country to hear:
“Heavenly Father, we bow our heads and thank You for Your love. Accept our thanks for the peace that yields the day and the shared faith that makes its continuance likely. Make us strong to do Your work, willing to heed and hear Your will, and write on our hearts these words: "Use power to help people.” For we are given power not to advance our own purposes. nor to make a great show in the world, nor a name. There is but one Just use of power, and it is to serve people. Help us to remember It, Lord. Amen.” (www.bartleby.com)
Likewise, all U.S. Presidents and many elected officials take an oath on the Holy Bible as they are sworn into office.
The Christian heritage of this nation is evidenced not only in the actions and words of our leaders, but in the government buildings themselves. The Ten Commandments hang over the head of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. In the House and Senate Chambers appear the words, “In God We Trust.” On the walls of the Capitol Dome appear the words, “The New Testament according to the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Engraved on the metal cap on the top of the Washington Monument are the words “Praise be to God,” and numerous Bible verses line the walls of the stairwell. A full statue of Moses holding the Ten Commandments, as the great lawyer of history, stands in the Supreme Courthouse Chambers.
God has been paid tribute through our Government leader’s actions, government monuments and with-in our society as well. Holidays, songs, slogans, and mottos in praise of God have been adopted with the assistance and support of the government. On November 2, 1782, the continental Congress Thanksgiving Proclamation was passed. It was a day set aside by our government to give thanks to God. Congress stated: “...We hereby recommend to the inhabitants of these States in general, to observe, and request the several States to interpose their authority in appointing and commanding the observation of Thursday the twenty-eight day of November next, as a day of solemn Thanksgiving to God for all his mercies: and they do further recommend to all ranks, to testify to their gratitude to God for his goodness…in a solemn and public manner to give him praise for his goodness in general.” (Weare).
Over 120 years later, Thanksgiving is still a national holiday, celebrated by millions by the acts of customs and traditions with gratitude to God. In 1775, Continental Congress asked the colonies to pray for wisdom in forming a nation. The call to prayer has continued through our history. In 1988, a bill passed by congress and signed by President Reagan, set aside the first Thursday of every May as a Nation Day of Prayer. Each year, the president signs a proclamation, encouraging all Americans to pray on this day. All fifty state governors also sign similar proclamations. We can credit the government for making Thanksgiving and the National Day of Prayer a recognized national holiday. In addition, the United States government identifies other religious holidays such as Good Friday, Easter, and Christmas by closing schools and Government offices in remembrance and respect.
Holidays are not the only area we find religion endorsed by our government. In 1954, an act of Congress changed our Pledge of Allegiance to The Flag to include the words: “One Nation Under God.” Similarly, a law passed by the 84th Congress on July 30, 1956, declared “In God We Trust” as the national motto of the United States. The motto, “In God We Trust” was first used on paper money in 1957. By a vote of 401-5, the House of Representatives, on Oct. 8, 2002, completed Congressional approval of a bill reaffirming the reference to "one Nation under God.” (Usgovinfo).
Moreover, our national anthem, the Star Spangled Banner, pays tribute to God, as seen in the last verse:
“O thus be it ever when free-men shall stand
Between their lov'd home and the war's desolation;
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the heav'n-rescued land
Praise the Pow'r that hath made and preserv'd us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust!”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!”
Today, approximately 84% of Americans identify with some form of Christianity, including those who say they are Protestant, Catholic, Mormon, or some other Christian religion. This estimate is based on a compilation of over 12,000 interviews conducted by Gallup in 2004. Religious traditions including songs and acts of worship can be witnessed daily in America. Church attendance is higher than in any other industrialized nation. Attendance in the U.S. is twice that of Canada and nearly four times that of many European countries. (www.religioustolerance.org)
Despite the fallacy that our founding fathers did not intend for this country to be a Christian nation, several U.S. Supreme Court cases have rebutted the notion that church and state don’t and shouldn’t exist in harmony with each other. These findings can be seen in the U.S Supreme Court Opinions listed below”
1892 Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States: “Our laws and our institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of the Redeemer of mankind. It is impossible that it should be otherwise, and in this sense and to this extent our civilization and our institutions are emphatically Christian.”
1952 Zoarach v. Clauson: “The First Amendment does not say that in every and all respects there shall be a separation of church and state. . . . We find no constitutional requirement which makes it necessary for government to be hostile to religion and to throw its weight against efforts to widen the effective scope of religious influence.”
1971 Lemon v. Kurtzman: “Separation is not possible in the absolute sense. Some relationship between government and religious organizations is inevitable.”
Additionally, in the 1985 U.S. Supreme Court Opinion on Wallace v. Jaffree, the chief justice stated it: “The ‘wall of separation between church and state’ is a metaphor based on bad history, a metaphor which has proved useless as a guide to judging. It should be frankly and explicitly abandoned.”
In conclusion, it is evident that the belief in the Christian God had an influence on our founding fathers and our government leaders As evidenced above, the belief in God and the Holy Bible influenced our government in the creation of our laws, our traditions, and ultimately our moral society. His Influence was thought to be essential, by the founding fathers, to give our leaders support and guidance. This influence is still seen at work in our modern culture. Although the Articles of Confederation did not officially authorize Congress to concern itself with religion, the people did not object to such activities. This lack of objection suggests that both the legislators and the public considered it appropriate for the national government to promote a nondenominational form of Christianity. The authors of the First Amendment intended for a differentiation between the church and the government. However, it is improbable to think with so much evidence as to the leaders’ religious convictions that they wanted to see a country without a presence of God, and its people living in ignorance to the Holy Scripture.
Alliance Defense Fund. “America’s Founders Acknowledged God”. 14 May 2005.
Bartly.Com. “Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents of the United States 1989” Address”. May 20, 2005. < http://www.bartleby.com/124/pres63.html>
Benjamin Hart, Faith &Freedom: The Christian Roots of American Liberty San Bernardino, CA Here’s Life Publishers, 1988, 18
Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States. 143 U.S. 457, 12 S.Ct. 511, 36 L.Ed. 226 (1892)
Crismier, Charles. Preserve Us A Nation. Gresham, Oregon: Vision House Publishing, Inc. 1994. 60
Davis, H. Derek. Religion and the Continental Congress 1774-1789: Contributions to original Intent. Oxford England: Oxford Press, 2000. 26-27.
Ford, W.C. ed. Journals of the Continental Congress Volume I 1774-1789. Washington DC: Government Printing Office 1904. 26-27
Holy Bible: St. Joseph Edition. “2 Corinthians 3:7” New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co. 1986.
Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 ( 1971)
Robinson, B.A. Religious Tolerance.Org. “How Many People Go Regularly to Weekly Religious Services” Ontario Consultants on religious Tolerance. 26 Mar. 2001. 7 May 2005 .
U.S. Gov Info / Resources. “Congress Confirms ‘God’ in Pledge, Motto”. 14 May 2005
Weare, M. Continental Congress Thanksgiving Proclamation: 1 Nov. 1782
Wallace v. Jaffree 705 F.2d 1526 and 713 F.2d 614 (1985)
Williams V. Wells, The Life and Public Service of Samuel Adams, 3 vols. Boston: Little Brown& Co., 1865, 18
Zorach v. Clauson 303 N.Y. 161, 100 N.E.2d 463 (1952)
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June 7, 2005
VIA EMAIL AND FIRST CLASS MAIL
Hon. Patricia Spencer, President
Victor Valley Community College
18422 Bear Valley Road
Victorville, CA 92392-5849
re: Bethany Hauf’s rights to academic freedom, freedom of
speech and freedom of religion
Dear President Spencer:
Bethany Hauf has retained the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ)
to pursue legal claims arising from Victory Valley Community College and adjunct
instructor Michael Shefchik’s adversely scoring her work in English 101 because of
instructor Shefchik’s personal distaste for references to God in Mrs. Hauf’s written
By way of introduction, the ACLJ is a not-for-profit public interest law firm
and educational group. Our organization exists to educate the public and the
government about the right to freedom of speech, particularly in the context of the
expression of religious sentiments. We render assistance to a significant number of
students in situations similar to the one Mrs. Hauf now faces.
The legal principles relevant to this particular situation have been set forth
in numerous Supreme Court decisions. As you will see in the pages that follow,
Westside Community Sch. v. Mergens, 496 U.S. 226 (1990), Tinker v. Des Moines
Indep. Community Sch. Dist., 393 U.S. 506 (1969), Widmar v. Vincent, 454 U.S. 265
(1981), Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of the Univ. of Virginia, 515 U.S. 819
(1995), and many other federal court decisions attest to the fact that religious
expression in the public arena is consistent with the First Amendment, including
when the expression takes place on public school grounds. As then-President
Letter to Hon. Patricia Spencer
Monday, June 7, 2005
Clinton stated, “[t]he First Amendment does not -- I will say again -- does not
convert our schools into religion-free zones.” President’s Remarks at James Madison
High School in Vienna, Virginia, 31 Weekly Comp. Pres. Doc. 1220, 1224 (July 12,
In the following pages, the facts of this matter are set forth and analyzed
under the relevant law. After reviewing the following, please take the necessary
steps required to ensure that your faculty and staff do not violate Bethany Hauf’s
and other students’ federal constitutional rights and California statutory rights in
I. STATEMENT OF RELEVANT FACTS
Bethany Hauf attends Victor Valley Community College. Michael Shefchik,
her instructor for English 101, assigned a number of writing projects, including the
one of present concern for a research paper.
On April 12, 2005, Mrs. Hauf contacted Mr. Shefchik via email inquiring
about a topic choice she was considering, either for a persuasive writing assignment
or for the research project assignment. She identified the topic as “Religion and Its
Place within the Government.” She stated that she was learning, from the
groundwork already done, that the topic was sufficiently grounded in research
materials that it could justifiably serve as her research project. And, she asked a
few technical questions about writing in response to the various assignments.
Mr. Shefchik received the email and replied to it.
In his reply, he made clear that he understood the particular topic of interest
to Mrs. Hauf and her possible use of it for her research project. At least twice in the
email, when it would have been proper to indicate that her topic choice was out of
line with the assignment, Mr. Shefchik actually indicated that the proposed topic
was within the bounds of the assignment. He said, “Certainly you could write a
persuasive paper or a research paper on the topic . . . .” Later in the email he
stated, “Should you decide to go with this topic,” and “Whatever you decide, these
subjects, like most others, need objective treatment . . . .” The email from Mr.
Shefchik did include this notable guidance: “I have one limiting factor – no mention
of big “G” gods, i.e., one, true god argumentation.”
Given that the subject was one with a richly diverse background of research
material, was of interest to her, and was passed upon by the instructor, Mrs. Hauf
Letter to Hon. Patricia Spencer
Monday, June 7, 2005
proceeded with her research and writing to complete the assignment. In compliance
with course requirements, she submitted a draft of the her research project and
attended a conference May 28, 2005, with Mr. Shefchik on her research project.
The conference did not “go well.” Mr. Shefchik told her that, at best, because
she had written off topic about God, she would be graded 69 out of a possible 100
points. Mr. Shefchik told Mrs. Hauf, among the reasons for his limitation was that
references to “God” could be offensive. He also indicated to her that there was an
appeal process if she was unhappy with his actions, and he invited her to undertake
that process. Within three or four minutes of the start of what was supposed to be
an approximately 20 minute conference, Mrs. Hauf found the conference concluded
and without having received any of the sort of pedagogical supervision and guidance
appropriate to such a conference.
Because Mr. Shefchik had identified Assistant Professor Judy Solis as the
person to whom any appeal from his decision should be taken, Mrs. Hauf
immediately walked over to Professor Solis’ office. She explained the circumstances
to Professor Solis. Professor Solis then invited Mr. Shefchik to join her and Mrs.
Hauf in her office. A further brief discussion ensued, but no aid or assistance
correcting Mr. Shefchik’s conduct was forthcoming. At the conclusion of that
meeting, Mrs. Hauf and Mr. Shefchik returned to his office for a further brief
After returning home that same day, Mrs. Hauf posted her draft to the online
blackboard (as all student work was to be posted there for review and comment by
other students). In addition, in the Discussion Board section of the online
blackboard, Mrs. Hauf posted a message regarding her paper, and the concerns
expressed about it by Mr. Shefchik, as well as her own concern for the thoughts of
the other students in the class regarding her work. Her posted message was in
compliance with an oral instruction given by Mr. Shefchik during the brief
conference. He told Mrs. Hauf that she should confirm with her classmates that he
had given specific instructions about the research project.
The very next day Mr. Shefchik caused Mrs. Hauf’s paper to removed from its
electronic posting. As a consequence, she was denied the benefit of other students’
evaluation and thoughts on her work, as well as having been denied the opportunity
to confirm with those students, in accord with Mr. Shefchik’s instructions, whether
her paper was “off topic.”
Mr. Shefchik describes himself as an Atheist. He has recounted his tales of
Letter to Hon. Patricia Spencer
Monday, June 7, 2005
1. Mr. Shefchik’s instruction presented other instances in which he and Mrs. Hauf came
into ideological conflict, over and beyond his prohibition on mentioning the big “G” god in her
research paper. Mr. Shefchik also told his students not to identify themselves or others as
“Americans” in their writings, despite well-established nomenclatures for doing so. In addition, he
has made disparaging digs and remarks about people of faith and about the Government of the
being a “Dead Head” (a camp follower of the rock group “Grateful Dead”), and of
illegal drug use experiences from his youth. He has even offered to make “bootleg”
music CDs of another rock group, “Phish.” While his life experiences, drug usage
choices, and willingness to offer to make bootleg copies of copyrighted materials are
troubling, it is the strange intersection of his professed personal belief in atheism
with the decision to down-grade Mrs. Hauf’s work because of its references to a big
“G” God that must provoke appropriate administrative intervention by you and
II. STATEMENT OF RELEVANT LAW
As a prefatory matter, the nature of Bethany’s product, her research paper,
must be understood. Mr. Shefchik’s actions appear to be driven by a view that Mrs.
Hauf wrote “off topic” when, as the facts above show, he knew and approved of the
topic she wrote on, although he urged her to take an advocacy position that was not
able to be supported by the historical research. So, when Mr. Shefchik downgraded
Bethany’s draft and gave her extremely short shrift at her draft conference, he
embodied his viewpoint disagreement by asserting that the topic was out of bounds.
Before VVCC commits itself to the defense of the precarious position into
which Mr. Shifchik is drawing it, the College should bear in mind with just whiat
bias and motivation Mr. Shifchik must be operating to have come to the present
impasse. Bethany’s paper discusses some of the evidences supporting a hypothesis
that, while the Constitution prohibits an established church, religion was essential
to the founding of the Nation and to its governance thereafter. Her paper was not
one written “about God” per se. Nor was her paper inherently and necessarily
religious. And, in keeping with the requirements of the assignment, it was
assiduously supported with citations to authority and written objectively.
Consequently, even if, in a country in which academic and constitutional
freedoms are so highly prized, it could be constitutional to impose a topical ban on
papers about big “G” gods, it was sophomoric error to read Mrs. Hauf’s research
paper as falling within the prohibited zone.
Hon. Patricia Spencer
June 7, 2005
A. BETHANY HAUF’S SPEECH IS PROTECTED UNDER THE
It is a fundamental proposition of constitutional law that a government body
may not suppress or exclude the speech of private parties for the sole reason that
the speech is religious or contains a religious perspective. Widmar v. Vincent, 454
U.S. 263 (1981); Lamb's Chapel v. Center Moriches Union Free Sch. Dist., 508 U.S.
384 (1993). To deny this fundamental principle would be to eviscerate the essential
guarantees of free speech and religious freedom under the First Amendment.
It is well settled that religious speech is protected by the First Amendment
and may not be singled out for disparate treatment. Widmar, 454 U.S. at 269
(citing Heffron v. International Soc’y for Krishna Consciousness, Inc., 452 U.S. 640
(1981); Neimotko v. Maryland, 340 U.S. 268 (1951); Saia v. New York, 334 U.S. 558
(1948)); see also Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of the Univ. of Virginia, 515 U.S.
819 (1995); Capitol Square Review and Advisory Bd. v. Pinette, 515 U.S. 753 (1995);
Westside Community Sch. v. Mergens, 496 U.S. 226 (1990). This principle was
reaffirmed by the United States Supreme Court, which stated:
Our precedent establishes that private religious speech, far from being
a First Amendment orphan, is as fully protected under the Free Speech
Clause as secular private expression . . . Indeed, in Anglo-American
history, at least, government suppression of speech has so commonly
been directed precisely at religious speech that a free-speech clause
without religion would be Hamlet without the prince.
Pinette, 515 U.S. at 760. Thus, a student's constitutional free speech rights to
express religious views are fully protected by the First and Fourteenth
Amendments to the United States Constitution. President Clinton recognized these
rights in his Presidential Guidelines on Student Expression in the Public Schools.
He specifically states that the Bible is a permissible school subject and that
“[s]tudents may express their beliefs about religion in the form of homework,
artwork, and other written and oral assignments free of discrimination based on the
religious content of their submissions.” Presidential Memorandum to the Secretary
of Education, 1998 Revised Guidelines. Thus, Mrs. Hauf may discuss religion and
God, even express when appropriate her religious beliefs and views, through
projects such as the research project given by Michael Shefchik.
B. BETHANY HAUF DID NOT ABANDON HER CONSTITUTIONAL
RIGHTS AS A CONDITION OF MATRICULATION AT VICTOR
VALLEY COMMUNITY COLLEGE
Hon. Patricia Spencer
June 7, 2005
Students do not forfeit their First Amendment rights to free speech by
attending school: “[i]t can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed
their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse
gate.” Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Community Sch. Dist., 393 U.S. 503, 506 (1968).
Accordingly, students are free to write about secular topics from a religious
viewpoint, write about religious topics, and may even, where appropriate
contextually express their religious views while at school. This freedom includes
utilizing historical references to “God” for support of a research thesis and in
defense of that thesis orally and in writing. An instructor’s decision to downgrade a
student’s work because of such factual, objectively verifiable historical content,
based on its religious essence, cannot be sustained.
Mr. Shefchik, acting as an employee of the Community College, lacks
authority to censor student expression unless the speech creates a material and
substantial disruption to the school’s ability to fulfill its educational goals. The
United States Supreme Court has held such censorship to be unconstitutional
where there has been "no finding and no showing that engaging [in the activity]
would materially and substantially interfere with the requirements of appropriate
discipline in the operation of the school." Tinker, 393 U.S. at 509 (quoting Burnside
v. Byars, 363 F.2d 744, 749 (5th Cir. 1966)). This standard of “material and
substantial disruption” cannot be met merely by the prognosticating about possible
disruptions resulting from supposed offenses taken to the use of the word “God.” As
the Supreme Court stated, "in our system, undifferentiated fear or apprehension of
disturbance is not enough to overcome the right to freedom of expression." Tinker,
393 U.S. at 508. In Tinker, the Supreme Court held that students are protected by
the Constitution in the school environment, and that prohibitions of pure speech
can be supported only when they are necessary to protect "the work of the schools or
the rights of other students." 393 U.S. at 509.
When a student chooses to complete an assignment on issues dealing with
religion and/or God, or related topics, school officials such as Mr. Shefchik are
barred by the Constitution from censoring the student's beliefs just because they
come from a religious perspective. Censorship of student speech based on its
content and/or viewpoint represents a careless and broad denial of constitutional
rights based on a grossly erroneous view of the law regarding students' rights:
Yet, in our system, state-operated schools may not be enclaves for
totalitarianism. School officials do not possess absolute authority over
their students. Students in school as well as out of school are persons
under our Constitution. They are possessed of fundamental rights
which the state must respect, just as they themselves must respect
Hon. Patricia Spencer
June 7, 2005
their obligations to the state. In our systems, students may not be
regarded as closed-circuit recipients of only that which the
state chooses to communicate. They may not be confined to
the expressions of those sentiments that are officially
Tinker, 393 U.S. at 511 (emphasis added).
This fundamental constitutional principle is applicable both inside and
outside the classroom. As the Tinker Court noted, when a student "is in the
cafeteria, or on the playing field, or on the campus during the authorized hours, he
may express his opinions. . . ." 393 U.S. at 512-13. Moreover, attempting to enforce
a policy that excludes religious speech forces school officials
to scrutinize the content of student speech, lest the expression in
question – speech otherwise protected by the Constitution – contain
too great a religious content . . . That eventuality raises the specter of
governmental censorship, to ensure that all student writings and
publications meet some baseline standard of secular
orthodoxy. To impose that standard on student speech . . . is to
imperil the very sources of free speech and expression.
Rosenberger, 515 U.S. at 844-45 (emphasis added).
We completely acknowledge that school officials have "important, delicate
and highly discretionary functions" to perform. West Virginia v. Barnette, 319 U.S.
624, 637 (1943). However, these functions must be performed "within the limits of
the Bill of Rights." Id. "The vigilant protection of constitutional freedoms is
nowhere more vital than in a community of American schools." Shelton v. Tucker,
364 U.S. 479, 487 (1967). By forbidding or severely restricting a student’s ability to
express his private beliefs because they contain religious principles, a school
exercises "authoritative selection" violative of the well-established principle that the
"classroom is peculiarly the marketplace of ideas." Keyishian v. Board of Regents,
385 U.S. 589, 603 (1967). Furthermore, the decision to selectively exclude material
with religious content or viewpoint violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
C. DOWNGRADING BETHANY HAUF’S WORK BASED ON
PERCEIVED VIEWPOINT AND CONTENT VIOLATES HER
FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS
The fundamental principal remains that government actors cannot target
Hon. Patricia Spencer
June 7, 2005
religious speech for exclusive restrictions. As the Supreme Court held in Lamb's
Chapel, “[t]he principle that has emerged from our cases is that the First
Amendment forbids the government to regulate speech in ways that favor
some viewpoints or ideas at the expense of others.” 508 U.S. at 394
The First Amendment precludes any governmental effort to single out and
censor – or otherwise burden – the speech of private parties solely because that
speech is religious. A unanimous United States Supreme Court in Church of
Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520 (1993), explained this principle
in light of free exercise concerns:
The principle that government, in pursuit of legitimate interest,
cannot, in a selective manner, impose burdens only on conduct
motivated by religious belief is essential to the protection of the rights
guaranteed by the Free Exercise Clause. The principle underlying the
general applicability requirement has parallels in our First
Id. at 543.
These principles were reaffirmed in Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of
Univ. of Virginia, 515 U.S. at 819 (1995), where the Court found unconstitutional a
university policy which denied a religious newspaper access to university funds
because of its religious perspective:
It is axiomatic that the government may not regulate speech based on
its substantive content or the message it conveys . . . . In the realm of
private speech or expression, government regulation may not favor one
speaker over another. Discrimination against speech because of
its message is presumed to be unconstitutional. The government
must abstain from regulating speech when the specific motivating
ideology or the opinion or perspective of the speaker is the rationale for
515 U.S. at 828-829 (citations omitted) (emphasis added). See also Good
News/Good Sports Club v. School Dist. of the City of Ladue, 28 F.3d 1501,
1506-1507 (8th Cir. 1994) (where the Eighth Circuit observed that the Lamb's
Chapel Court "refused to cabin religious speech into a separate excludible speech
category; rather, the Court adopted a more expansive view, recognizing that a
religious perspective can constitute a separate viewpoint on a wide variety of
Hon. Patricia Spencer
June 7, 2005
seemingly secular subject matter").
In Bethany’s situation, Mr. Shefchik may grade her work appropriately, that
is, by the application of standards that do not violate constitutional rights. He may
not, however, award punitive grades to her work because her research assignment
mentions a big “G” God or discusses the role of religion in the Government of the
nation. Such actions violate her free speech rights.
D. BETHANY HAUF’S PRIVATE SPEECH DOES NOT IMPLICATE
VICTOR VALLEY COMMUNITY COLLEGE IN A VIOLATION
OF THE ESTABLISHMENT CLAUSE OF THE FIRST
Schools and school authorities often wrongly believe that allowing students
to express religious views at school would be a violation of "the separation of
Church and State" (Establishment Clause). This very argument has been reviewed
and rejected by the United States Supreme Court. In Board of Educ. of the
Westside Community Sch. v. Mergens, 496 U.S. 226 (1990), the Supreme Court
stated, as a general proposition, that the activities of students in a public school do
not present any Establishment Clause problem:
Petitioners’ principal contention is that the Act has the primary effect
of advancing religion. Specifically, petitioners urge that, because the
student religious meetings are held under school aegis, and because
the state's compulsory attendance laws bring the students together
(and thereby provide a ready-made audience for student evangelists),
and objective observer in the position of a secondary school student
will perceive official school support for such religious meetings. . . . We
496 U.S. at 249-250 (emphasis added).
Of course, Mergens merely reflects the Establishment Clause's intended
limitation – not on the rights of individual students – but on the power of
governments (including State supported colleges). As Justice O'Connor stated,
"there is a crucial difference between government speech endorsing religion, which
the Establishment Clause forbids, and private speech endorsing religion, which the
Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses protect." 496 U.S. at 250.
As the Supreme Court stated in Mergens, a policy of equal access for religious
speech conveys a message “of neutrality rather than endorsement; if a State refused
Hon. Patricia Spencer
June 7, 2005
2. In Hedges, the Court of Appeals found that a school policy which prohibited the
distribution of all material with religious content violated the First Amendment. Although the Court
allowed time and place restrictions on the distribution, it found that a student’s right to free speech
in the schools should be protected. Hedges, 9 F.2d at 1299.
to let religious groups use facilities open to others, then it would demonstrate not
neutrality but hostility toward religion." 496 U.S. at 248. Accord Gregoire v.
Centennial Sch. Dist., 907 F.2d 1366, 1382 n.14 (3d Cir. 1990), cert. denied, 111
S.Ct. 253 (1990); Grace Bible Fellowship, Inc. v. Maine Sch. Admin. Dist., 941 F.2d
45, 48 (lst Cir. 1991).
The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment "requires the state to be a
neutral in its relations with . . . religious believers and non-believers; it does not
require the state to be their adversary." Everson v. Board of Educ., 330 U.S. 1, 18
(1947). On the contrary, "[s]tate power is no more to be used to handicap religions,
than it is to favor them." Everson, 330 U.S. at 18. This principle of neutrality was
once again affirmed in Hedges v. Wauconda Community Sch. Dist., 9 F.3d 1295,
1299 (7th Cir. 1993), where the court struck 2 ck down a complete ban on the
censorship of religious material:
School districts seeking an easy way out try to suppress private
speech. Then they need not cope with the misconception that whatever
speech the school permits, it espouses. Dealing with
misunderstandings--here, educating the students in the meaning of the
Constitution and the distinction between private speech and public
endorsement--is, however, what schools are for.
9 F.3d at 1299. The court went on to criticize the School’s decision to err on the side
of censorship rather than free speech:
Yet Wauconda proposes to throw up its hands, declaring that because
misconceptions are possible it may silence its pupils, that the best
defense against misunderstanding is censorship. What a lesson
Wauconda proposes to teach its students! Far better to teach them
about the first amendment, about the difference between public and
private action, about why we tolerate divergent views. Public belief
that the government is partial does not permit the government to
become partial. The school’s proper response is to educate the
audience rather than squelch the speaker.
Hon. Patricia Spencer
June 7, 2005
Students who act on their own behalf and engage in speech activities as a
result of personal belief or interest, are fully protected by the First Amendment.
Consequently, there is no basis for restricting student expression in written
assignments or classroom discussions on otherwise permissible subjects, merely
because such writings or discussions are offered from a religious perspective.
It is imperative that this situation be corrected immediately to avoid possible
litigation in federal court.
To accomplish that correction, Michael Shefchik must: (1) reverse his actions
that violate Mrs. Hauf’s constitutional and statutory rights and (2) discontinue
those actions and related practices. As a matter of fact, Mr. Shefchik specifically
stated that Mrs. Hauf could score no higher than 69 points out of a possible 100
points on her draft because of her topic choice. This viewpoint biased action raises
serious questions about whether Mr. Shefchik can now or hereafter act in a manner
free from bias in his re-grading/re-scoring of Mrs. Hauf’s work.
In particular, Mrs. Hauf demands that her grades for course work on the
research project be recalculated by Mr. Shefchik free from the prejudicial impact of
his unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination and free from retributory impact for
having sought legal counsel and aid in seeking redress of this matter. To insure
that her grades do not reflect his biases, the re-grading/re-scoring, at a minimum
should be reviewed by a superior in the English Department.
In addition, because of the offenses he inflicted, Mr. Shefchik should make
amends to Mrs. Hauf by apologizing for his discriminatory treatment of Mrs. Hauf’s
views. Obviously, if Mr. Shefchik acted without animus, then the other
explanation, ignorance of constitutional limits, suggests that he should receive some
kind of training to sensitize him to the constitutional dimensions of his employment
in a public educational institution, including his duty to respect constitutional
freedoms of expression.
These steps, at a minimum, would demonstrate that academic inquiry and
intellectual liberty are valued prizes for students too, and not only professors and
instructors at VVCC.
These actions must take place immediately: the violation of an individual’s
constitutional rights, even for a moment, results in irreparable injury. Elrod v.
Burns, 427 U.S. 347, 373 (1976). In light of the serious nature of the legal rights at
Hon. Patricia Spencer
June 7, 2005
issue and the fact that the scoring of Mrs. Hauf’s oral presentation of the research
assignment is due as soon as Monday, June 7, 2005, we request that you take
immediate action to intervene with Mr. Shefchik, and that you advise us of VVCC’s
position on these matters immediately. If you wish to further discuss this issue,
please feel free to contact James M. Henderson, a Senior Counsel with the ACLJ, at
AMERICAN CENTER FOR
LAW AND JUSTICE
Jay Alan Sekulow
cc: Bethany Hauf