Why I Like The ACLU

This story from southwestern Virginia shows a side of the American Civil Liberties Union that critics on the right are not willing to acknowledge:

FLOYD COUNTY, VA –The ACLU of Virginia has come to the defense of a group of Christian athletes in Floyd County.

In an e-mail sent Friday afternoon, the civil liberties group said it had e-mailed the principal of Floyd Co. High School (FHS), and urged him to allow students to post their personal views, including copies of the Ten Commandments, on the lockers.

The e-mail comes one day after WSLS first reported that members of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at FHS claims school leaders took down the copies of the Ten Commandments on their lockers.

School leaders would not confirm or deny the incident to WSLS. They would only state school policy that messages other than those such as ‘happy birthday,’ or ‘go team,’ were allowed to be posted on lockers without school administration permission.

As the ACLU points out in it’s email, though, the school’s policy constitutes an infringement of the student’s First Amendment rights:

It is important to understand that allowing students to express their religious views on their lockers is not the same as the school itself posting the Ten Commandments or other religious documents. As the Supreme Court has often explained, “there is a crucial difference between governmentspeech endorsing religion, which the Establishment Clause forbids, and privatespeech endorsing religion, which the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses protect.” Bd. of Educ. of Westside Comm. Sch. v. Mergens, 496 U.S. 226 (1990). When the school posts the Ten Commandments on the wall, it is violating the First Amendment by promoting religion. When the school allows students to post the Ten Commandments on their lockers, it is upholding students’ First Amendment rights (as long as religious speech is not treated more favorably than other types of speech, such as political speech).


“Schools have the authority to ban all displays on school property,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis, in a news release. “But if a school allows students to post some kinds of personal messages on their lockers, it must also allow other kinds of messages, including those that have religious content The removal of the Ten Commandments from student lockers at Floyd County High School appears to violate the First Amendment rights of students by discriminating against religious expression,” added Willis in the release.

This is what an intellectually consistent view of religious liberty issues looks like. A school board cannot post the Ten Commandments in classrooms, but is also cannot prohibit students from posting them on their locker if it allows other personal messages to be posted. Good for the ACLU for getting it right.

H/T: Eugene Volokh

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Religion, US Politics, , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Ben says:

    Unfortunately, most on the right vilify the ACLU because the ACLU won’t take on second amendment cases. As if the fact that the ACLU has a different stance on that one issue nullifies all of the other good they do. Because the perfect should always be the enemy of the good.

  2. Ben says:

    I meant that to say “many on the right”, not “most of the right”. Most of the right opposes the ACLU for other reasons.

  3. Franklin says:

    What if those kids were putting up the Ten Commandments with the motivation of harassing some non-Christian member of the team? I’m just askin’.

  4. tom p says:

    my money… well spent.

    Franklin, well put… but the question is what does the constitution say about what the gov’t can/can not do…

    In the case you propose, hopefully the student has a set of good strong parents. (I know, weak sauce, but as a father who once advised a son to “pick up a brick and put it thru the bullies head” because sooner or later the teachers would NOT be there…) In other words, “I’m sorry son, but some things you DO have to deal with on your own.

    Maybe I was wrong, but I make no apologies.

  5. Wiley Stoner says:

    the Anti Christian Lawyers Union is nothing but an off shoot of the communist party. Not one of them understand what the Constitution says or stands for. Actions speak louder than words.