Lucas v. Johnson
Description: The Colorado School of Mines had allowed donors to the school’s new athletic facility to include an inscription of the donor’s choosing on personalized nameplates that were placed in the new football locker room and had not provided any restrictions on content. When alumnus Michael Lucas, a former defensive nose tackle for CSM, requested “Colossians 3:23 and Micah 5:9,” the school rejected the inscription because one of the verses refers to “Lord” even though the text of the verses would not appear on the nameplate itself.
Colo. school ends speech for all rather than allow former football player to have Bible reference on nameplate
The school had allowed donors to the school’s new athletic facility to include an inscription of the donor’s choosing on personalized nameplates that were placed in the new football locker room and had not provided any restrictions on content. When alumnus Michael Lucas, a former defensive nose tackle for CSM, requested “Colossians 3:23 and Micah 5:9,” the school rejected the inscription because one of the verses refers to “Lord” even though the text of the verses would not appear on the nameplate itself.
“Public colleges are supposed to be a marketplace of ideas, but the School of Mines has indicated it prefers anti-religious hostility,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer. “It’s ridiculous and sad that the school felt the need to punish everyone who participated in the program simply because it could not stomach a Bible reference on one plaque – a reference that was not even going to include the text of the verses.”
In a letter to donors to the program, School of Mines President Paul Johnson wrote that all of the nameplates had been removed and that participants have the option to transfer their donation to a different program with different nameplates that don’t allow any personalized message. Although the original program allowed individuals to express a personalized message on their nameplates without any stated restrictions, the school oddly claims in the letter that it didn’t intend to allow “individual expression.”
“The school initially imposed no restrictions – or even guidelines – on the type of message a donor could include, and contrary to what the school argued, the First Amendment protects – not restricts – a simple reference to a Bible verse in this context,” said ADF Senior Counsel David Hacker. “Because the school apparently feared a simple Scripture reference would be like asbestos on the locker room walls, it decided to purge any trace of free expression from the facility.”
Wanting to support his alma matter, Lucas, who graduated from CSM in 2003, participated in CSM’s fundraising program for the new Clear Creek Athletics Complex. The school offered “naming opportunities” whereby CSM 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 chosen by the donor.
After making a $2,500 donation, the school denied Lucas’s nameplate inscription request because he wanted his quote to include two Bible references, “Colossians 3:23 and Micah 5:9.” Although the text of neither verse would be displayed, CSM officials objected 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. Although the officials claimed that to allow them would be a violation of the First Amendment, ADF attorneys explained that the First Amendment actually protects such speech and that the school’s official policy prohibits “discrimination on the basis of…religion….”
CSM had approved other requests for nameplate inscriptions that included quotes such as “Give ‘Em Hell,” “OK Gentlemen, it’s time to gird your loins,” and “Take your whiskey clear,” but now all of the nameplates have been removed.
- Pronunciation guide: Langhofer (LANG’-hoff-ur)
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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Tyson C. Langhofer serves as senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom and director of its Center for Academic Freedom. Before joining ADF, Langhofer was a partner with Stinson Leonard Street LLP, where he worked as a commercial litigation attorney for 15 years and earned Martindale-Hubbell’s AV Preeminent® rating. Langhofer earned his Juris Doctor from Regent University School of Law, where he graduated cum laude in 1999. He obtained a B.A. in international business with a minor in economics from Wichita State University in 1996. A member of the bar in Virginia, Kansas, and Arizona, Langhofer is also admitted to practice in numerous federal district courts.