Nebraska assistant football coach Ron Brown says he’s not going to change the message he shares with students after ACLU Nebraska raised concerns about its religious elements.
ACLU Nebraska sent letters to state school districts warning them not to require students to listen to speakers if they proselytize to students while delivering anti-drug and -alcohol messages. The ACLU specifically cautioned against two speakers: Ron Brown and Keith Becker.
Brown, said Wednesday that he doesn’t plan to change his message in response to the ACLU’s letter. He said he asks schools to make attendance optional when he speaks.
“I’m going to talk about Jesus Christ whenever I’m talking about drugs or alcohol or character,” he said. “I’ve been doing the same thing for 20 years.”
Brown, assistant coach for tight ends of the Nebraska Cornhusker football team, is a former state director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and co-founder of the nonprofit Christian organization Mission Nebraska.
Keith Becker, founder of the Todd Becker Foundation, is the older brother of Todd, who was a senior at Kearney Senior High when he was killed in an alcohol-related car accident.
According to the foundation’s website, Keith Becker tells of the choices that ultimately led to his brother’s death.
The presentation, which has been shown in 72 Nebraska high schools since 2006, also urges students to commit to take “the narrow road,” a reference to the Bible’s Book of Matthew, and make healthy choices, including not to drink underage or drink and drive.
A message for the foundation was not returned, but the issue of religion in public schools is addressed on the foundation’s website.
“During the assembly, we do share one Scripture from the Bible, simply to better illustrate the story of Todd’s choices,” the website says. “We fully understand that we are in a public school setting and are very mindful of the boundaries that must be kept.”
Amy Miller, legal director of ACLU Nebraska, said parents and students filed 14 complaints — a dozen against Becker and two against Brown — with her office. None of those complaints originated from Omaha area districts.
“Both (men) are being given access to mandatory assemblies of schoolchildren,” Miller said. “We can’t stop it beforehand because it’s not done with advance notice.”
The letter to superintendents says the ACLU will consider legal action if students’ First Amendment rights are violated.
“The First Amendment’s Establishment Clause forbids endorsement of religion in the public school setting,” the letter says, “and you have an obligation to ensure that guest speakers in a mandatory school assembly are not attempting to promote religion.”
The original Establishment Clause says that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of a religion. CONGRESS shall make no law. It doesn’t say anything about a couple individuals speaking at a voluntary assembly. The Establishment Clause was set up to avoid a circumstance similar to the actions that occurred in England when England set up a national religion: The Church of England. It was set up to avoid having CONGRESS favor one religion over another. It did not say that Congress, or public school speakers, have to avoid public displays of religion. It does not prohibit the government’s entry into religious domain to make accommodations in order to achieve the purposes of the Free Exercise Clause. The Free Exercise Clause says that Congress cannot prohibit the free exercise of religion. If the ACLU wants to cite 5-4 interpretations made by the Supreme Court in later cases, they should cite them, but to say that “The First Amendment’s Establishment Clause forbids endorsement of religion in the public school setting” is factually incorrect.
While we’re on the topic, there is no Constitutional statement regarding the separation of church and state. The “wall of separation” was made in an informal letter from President Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptists. It was Jefferson’s interpretation of the Establishment Clause that led him to believe that there should be a wall of separation. The exact quote is as follows: “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.” This has been quoted by Supreme Court’s so often that proponents of “the wall” have misled individuals into believing that the statement is, in fact, in The Constitution or that’s it’s Constitutional.