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Sunday, March 02, 2014

Ind. Gov't. - More on "Purdue University Rejects Donor's Reference to 'God's physical laws' on Plaque Honoring Parents' Legacy"

Since the ILB first broke this story last Thursday morning, a number of stories have followed. This one today by columnist Dave Bangert, in the Lafayette Journal Courier, is by far the best, and the longest. A sample:

[Donor Michael] McCracken’s attorney, Robert Kelner, said Purdue is stifling his client’s free speech rights by reneging on an offer to write an inscription. Steve Schultz, Purdue’s legal counsel, made things a bit more dicey by essentially saying the university agrees in principle with McCracken — if only there was a way to guarantee against potential lawsuits and “the hopelessly muddled state of jurisprudence in this particular area” that could wipe out the value of a donation that comes in five yearly installments of $2,500.

On one hand, you have a question on the limits of speech. Does an invitation to write something to hang as a fixture on a state-run university offer absolute First Amendment rights? (Take religion out of the mix for a second. What if he’d written: “Mitch Daniels is a doofus,” “Purdue is a lousy place to go to school,” or, heaven forbid, “Neil Armstrong was no hero of mine?”)

On the other hand, there’s an implication in Schultz’s justification that there’s a price for everything at Purdue. The McCracken donation just didn’t meet it. So what price would have eliminated what McCracken’s lawyer called the fear of defending against a “heckler’s veto?” Upward of $100,000? $1 million? $12 million? No telling.

Either way, Purdue has no decent landing zone at this point.

Bangert's long column concludes:

Will McLauchlan, a political science professor at Purdue who specializes in constitutional law, said the university is in a bind of its own making, by accepting a donation and offering carte blanche on an inscription. But now that it’s out there …

“Whether one believes in a complete wall of separation, as some of us do, or if we would tolerate some overlap, such as a ‘grace’ before dinner at a banquet in the (Purdue Memorial) Union, putting this kind of reference in a visible and semi-permanent way on the wall is not appropriate,” McLauchlan said. “Furthermore, since we value or prize diversity, which includes religious diversity, would we allow a similar reference to Mohammed on a classroom or hallway wall if the benefactor was Muslim? The university allowing ‘God’ would permit reference to any religious deity chosen by the benefactor. That is not a position the university should be in.

“The university should give the money back and thank the benefactor for considering Purdue.”

If it were only that easy — or as easy as wishing Purdue had etched McCracken’s inscription, put the plaque on the wall and quietly backed away, figuring no one would notice or care about a fairly innocuous reference to God.

Too late now. Purdue drew another line in the gray area of church and state. And everyone on both sides of that line is watching to see if it holds up.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 2, 2014 11:41 AM
Posted to Indiana Government