WILL Stands Up For Free Speech, Religious Liberty of Appleton School Board Member

Puts Appleton School Board on notice for potential First Amendment violations

The News: The Wisconsin institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) issued a letter to the Appleton Area School District on June 18 explaining why a school board member was well within his rights to discuss his Christian faith at a graduation ceremony in early June. In addition, WILL warned the school board against taking any action that would serve to violate the First Amendment rights of speakers based on their viewpoint.

The Background: Rev. Alvin Dupree, a member of the Appleton Area School District school board, invoked his Christian faith in remarks at a June 6 graduation ceremony at Appleton North High School. In response, a group of students and the Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) expressed outrage and asked the Appleton school board to prevent Dupree from speaking at future district-sponsored events. Additionally, FFRF encouraged the school board to adopt a policy for graduation remarks that require review and approval.

WILL’s Letter: WILL President and General Counsel Rick Esenberg and Associate Counsel Anthony LoCoco issued a letter to the members of the Appleton Area School District school board on June 18 encouraging caution before adopting policies that may violate the First Amendment. The letter reads in part:

“The fact that some attendees may say that they were made uncomfortable by the words Pastor Dupree chose is of no constitutional import. The constitutional focus must be on the words he spoke. Graduation addresses feature a wide variety of speakers espousing a wide variety of views. That some might disagree with a speaker’s message is inevitable. The constitutional solution is to expand, not constrict, the amount and kinds of speech allowed. Consequently, this Board should not be bullied into adopting measures which sacrifice the First Amendment rights of members of the school community to please those who would turn any speech deemed offensive by some individuals in some way into a constitutional violation.” 

To conclude, Esenberg and LoCoco add:

“… we will be monitoring the Board’s next steps to make sure that the Board complies with the federal and state constitutions and does not interfere with the First Amendment rights of any part of the school community.”

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