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Purdue Grad Told Use of ‘God’ in Donation Plaque Not Acceptable

An alum of Purdue University claims that his First Amendment rights have been violated by the school, according to The Indy Star.

Michael McCracken and his wife made a $12,500 donation to the Purdue School of Medical Engineering back in 2012. The school asked the graduate to provide an inscription for a dedication plaque. The plaque was going to be installed in the Herrick Laboratories. McCracken is a graduate of the engineering program.

McCracken provided the following, in honor of his parents, for the plaque.

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“To those who seek to better the world through the understanding of God’s physical laws and innovation of practical solutions. In honor of Dr. William ‘Ed’ and Glenda McCracken.”

The dedication was rejected by Purdue because of McCracken’s use of ‘God,’ which school officials said would amount to a government endorsement of religion. Purdue is a public school and receives state and federal money.

McCracken claims that the plaque is private speech and the ban from Purdue violates his First Amendment rights.

“The First Amendment protects Dr. McCracken’s right to refer to ‘God’s physical laws,’ ” said McCracken’s attorney, Robert K. Kelner. Kelner is from Covington & Burling LLP.

“Purdue asked Dr. McCracken to supply language of his choice in recognition of his and his wife’s generous pledge to their alma mater. He chose language that honors the values instilled by his parents — Ed, also a Purdue alumnus, and Glenda, who recently passed away.”

“This does not reflect anything the Supreme Court has ever said regarding the Establishment Clause. The word ‘God’ is on the dollar bill.”

Purdue would receive $2,500 for the next five years from McCracken, since it would be a multi-year gift. McCracken was told in October that his plaque wording was denied.

The legal counsel for Purdue, Steve Schultz, released a statement that said:

“We have a great deal of understanding and sympathy for the disappointment of the McCracken family. If we had confidence that the courts would find this private speech as the donor’s counsel argues, then we would agree immediately — and strongly.

“But given the facts here, our status as a public institution, and the hopelessly muddled state of jurisprudence in this particular area, we could fully expect lengthy and expensive litigation that would wipe out the value of this donation many times over, and we just don’t think that’s advisable for either the donor or the university. Still, we remain open to continued discussions, as we’d much prefer to be in the mode of expressing gratitude, not disagreement, to our donors.”

According to Kelner, McCracken was disappointed with the school’s statement.

“The university is essentially giving voices that would ban even private references to ‘God’ a heckler’s veto here,” Kelner said. “In so many words, the statement suggests that Dr. McCracken’s pledge was not large enough to justify the hassle of defending his speech in court. But, of course, it is precisely the university’s decision to violate Dr. McCracken’s First Amendment rights that would lead to potentially lengthy and expensive litigation.”

Alternative language has been proposed to Purdue by McCracken and his lawyer in order to make everyone happy.

“We have offered to the university to make whatever changes they want us to make to make it blindingly clear to any reader that this is speech by the McCrackens and not the university,” Kelner told the Journal & Courier. “To this moment, the university has not been willing to come back and suggest alternative language.”

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