ACLU of Virginia had urged school officials to respect students’ First Amendment rightsFloyd County, VA — After reviewing a letter from the ACLU of Virginia arguing that students should have the right to express their personal religious beliefs, Floyd County Public Schools Superintendent Terry Arbogast has reversed an earlier decision ordering students to take down copies of the Ten Commandments they had posted on their lockers.
According to news reports, Arbogast will allow students at Floyd County High School to post the religious messages on their lockers while school officials review policies on locker door messages.
The incident was sparked by a large number of Floyd County High School students choosing to post the Ten Commandments on their lockers to protest a decision by the school board in nearby Giles County to take down copies of the Ten Commandments it had ordered schools to put up.
Floyd County High School apparently requires students to first seek approval for posting announcements and flyers on their lockers, but not personal messages, such as birthday greetings and well wishes for sporting events. The ACLU believes that religious messages fall into the second category.
The ACLU’s letter to the Floyd County High School principal drew a distinction between students’ voluntarily posting the Ten Commandments on their lockers, and school officials requiring the Ten Commandments to be posted on school walls. The former is protected by the free speech clause of the First Amendment. The latter violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment, which prevents the government from imposing religious beliefs on students.
“This was the right decision by the Floyd County superintendent, and we are pleased to hear that he has acted so quickly,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “Schools certainly have the authority to ban all student displays on school property, but if a school allows students to post some kinds of personal messages on their lockers, it must also allow other kinds of messages, including those that have religious content.”
“School officials sometimes forget that students’ free speech rights do not end when they enter the schoolhouse door,” added Willis. “So long as the student expression, be it religious, political or social, does not substantially disrupt the educational process, it must be allowed.”
A copy of the ACLU’s letter to the Floyd County High School principal is online at: http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/20110225FloydCountyLockerTenCsLetter.pdf
Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director, 804-644-8022