If you have ever participated in a pickup game of football (or any sport involving a ball for that matter), you are probably familiar with the phrase “take one’s ball and go home.” It refers to a situation where one of the players gets angry—usually because the player is losing or does not want to abide by the rules—and decides to leave the game. The disgruntled player is not content with merely leaving the game, but, out of spite, wants to prevent the other players from being able to continue the game by taking the ball.
The Colorado School of Mines (CSM) “took the ball and went home” when it removed all of the personalized nameplates from its new football locker room rather than simply allow a former football player to include a Bible reference on his nameplate. The school’s ban on the reference was baseless, so its decision to rip out all of the plaques was the opposite of an act of constitutional courage—it was an act of cowardice and religious hostility.
Michael Lucas is an alumnus and former defensive nose tackle for CSM. Last year, he agreed to participate in its fundraising program for the new Clear Creek Athletics Complex. The school offered “naming opportunities” to the public whereby it would place a personalized nameplate on lockers in the new football locker room for each donor. Nameplates could include up to three lines of a personalized message or a quote of the donor’s choice without any stated restrictions.
After making a $2,500 donation, Michael requested “Colossians 3:23 and Micah 5:9” as his personalized message. CSM officials rejected the inscription because they said, after the fact, that nameplate quotes could not include the words “Lord,” “God,” or “Jesus” or make reference to Bible verses that contain those words. CSM had approved inscriptions that included quotes such as “Give ‘Em Hell,” “OK Gentlemen, it’s time to gird your loins,” and “Take your whiskey clear.”
Unwilling to change their minds after hearing Michael’s concerns about this, school officials left him with little option but to sue them for ignoring his First Amendment freedoms—specifically by rejecting his religious message (a mere Scripture reference with no wording from the verse itself) while allowing others to include their non-religious messages.
The law couldn’t be more clear in this case. Once the government opens an opportunity for private speech on government property (as CSM did with the locker nameplates), it cannot censor that private speech because of its viewpoint.
CSM responded just like the spoiled child that takes the ball and leaves during the middle of a game because he is not getting his way. Before the court could rule on Michael’s motion, the school chose to remove all of the locker nameplates that had previously been posted and begin a different fundraising program with different nameplates that don’t allow any personalized message. Effectively, CSM is saying, “If we can’t censor donors that want to include religious messages, then we are not going to allow donors to include any messages.”
Unfortunately, CSM is not alone in its religious bigotry. This type of censorship is becoming more and more prevalent on today’s college campuses. Colleges and universities are increasingly censoring speakers with religious viewpoints by arguing that allowing religious speech violates their so-called “nondiscrimination policies” or the “separation of church and state.” These arguments are clearly wrong from a legal perspective.
But, just as importantly, these arguments are wrong from an educational perspective. When colleges attempt to silence religious viewpoints on their campuses, they not only violate their students’ constitutionally protected freedoms, but they also undermine one of the primary purposes of education: creating men and women of character. In discussing the purpose of education, Martin Luther King, Jr. warned of this very danger in modern education:
“The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals. … We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate. The broad education will, therefore, transmit to one not only the accumulated knowledge of the race but also the accumulated experience of social living. If we are not careful, our colleges will produce a group of close-minded, unscientific, illogical propagandists, consumed with immoral acts. Be careful, 'brethren!' Be careful, teachers!"
Our society accepted Dr. King’s message on civil rights and racial equality. We would be wise not to ignore his message on the true purpose of education.
Tyson Langhofer is senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented Michael Lucas in his lawsuit against the Colorado School of Mines.