Smoky Mountains Sunrise
Showing posts with label Holland MI Public Schools. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Holland MI Public Schools. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Former Holland, Michigan Schools Superintendent Arrested

Former Holland, MI Schools Superintendent Patricia Koeze
In June 2008, Sunlit Uplands reported on  West Ottawa, Michigan Public Schools Superintendent Patricia Koeze, and her censorship of planned remarks by high school valedictorian Jed Grooters, who included quotations from the New Testament in his valedictory speech.  

One of our political mentors, Senator Herman Talmadge, always stressed the importance of differentiating between "good reasons" and "real reasons."  The district termed the valedictory remarks "religious speech" because they included a few scripture passages from Corinthians.  But as the American Family Association of Michigan pointed out at the time, Koeze and the district didn't have a legal leg to stand on in restricting an honor student's First Amendment rights.  And now, with the recent arrest of former Superintendent Koeze on domestic assault charges, perhaps we see the "real reason" she was so offended by the Christian message.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Graduate Changes Speech, But Fellow Valedictorian Adds Bible Verses to His

While at the request of school officials one West Ottawa (MI) High School valedictorian removed Bible verses from his graduation speech, another slipped some in.

“If they weren’t going to let Jed speak, I figured I could,” West Ottawa class of 2008 President Andrew Webster said of his fellow valedictorian Jed Grooters.

“What I said is what I truly felt and saying anything else would not have been true to who I am,” Webster said. “I wasn’t expressing the views of the school, I was expressing my own views. ... I was told to write an essay about a life
lesson and I did that.”

Each of the nine valedictorians was asked to prepare a two-minute speech to read at Sunday’s commencement ceremony. The speeches had to be pre-approved by school officials. School officials had asked Grooters to remove an extended Bible quotation from his speech and rewrite it in his own words. If he refused, Grooters would not have been allowed to speak at his graduation.

Grooters’ speech was first rejected because it consisted almost entirely of one long quote, West Ottawa Superintendent Patricia Koeze said earlier this week. The school’s legal counsel advised officials that quoting Scripture at the graduation ceremony was a violation of the “no establishment of religion” clause in the First Amendment, she said.

“You may have heard I will no longer be giving the speech I was going to because it is inappropriate for a graduation setting,” Grooters said Sunday afternoon, eliciting a boo or two from audience members.

He did not read 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 as he had planned. Instead, Grooters put together a few words, ending with: “Jesus loves you and that is the most important life lesson of all.”

He introduced the next valedictorian who had to wait for the standing ovation to die down.

Webster’s original, pre-approved speech was along the lines of “life is a game and we spend too much time spinning around and not focusing on important things,” he said.

Without telling officials, Webster changed his speech to include John 16:33, Ecclesiastes 3:10-14, 4:4, 4:7-8, 5:18-20 and 5:10 — “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless.” — and 5:15 — “Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand.”Webster said Grooters had inspired him to be true to himself.

School officials did not approach him after the ceremony and will not reprimand him, they said.

“What I’ll say about that is one of our speeches went longer than what was planned, but overall the kids did a great job,” Principal Kent Henson said after the ceremony.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Holland, Michigan School District Violates Christian Student's Free Speech Rights

Family Group: Holland schools violate Constitution by censoring Christian valedictorian's "life lesson"

Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals: "The First Amendment does not demand a wall of separation between ch
urch and state."

HOLLAND, Mich. -- West Ottawa Public Schools Superintendent Patricia Koeze's censorship of a Christian high school senior's valedictory address -- planned for graduation ceremonies Sunday -- is a "clear, outrageous, and unconstitutional violation of the student's First Amendment free speech rights," a statewide family values group said Saturday.

The American Family Association of Michigan blasted Koeze's censorship of planned remarks by West Ottawa High School valedictorian Jed Grooters, who included quotations from the New Testament book of Corinthians. AFA-Michigan President Gary Glenn, Midland, said Koeze's action "is a clear case of unconstitutional discrimination based on the content of the student's speech, propped up by some obviously very poor legal advice from the school district's attorneys."

"Since the U.S. Supreme Court long ago prohibited school officials from unconstitutionally forcing students to surrender their First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse door," Glenn said, "Supt. Koeze's heavy-handed intolerance and discrimination toward this student's expression of his Christian worldview is an engraved invitation for a First Amendment free speech lawsuit against the school system for which local taxpayers would have to foot the bill for attorneys fees and damages."

The Grand Rapids Press Saturday reported that Grooters -- a 4.0 GPA student and eight-time varsity athlete who won the sportsmanship award in three different varsity sports this year -- was asked by school officials to give a valedictory address Sunday talking about a "life lesson" he wished to share with fellow students.

But upon submitting a draft of his speech to school officials, Grooters was told he would not be allowed to speak unless he removed his speech's references to the Bible. The student refused, and the matter was referred to Koeze.

According to the Press, Koeze labeled Grooters' comments "a religious speech" and insisted that allowing him to present it during the school's graduation ceremonies would violate the so-called "separation of church and state."

Glenn said the federal Appeals Court which acts on all federal court decisions originating in Michigan has ruled exactly opposite of Koeze's faulty interpretation of the First Amendment.

He cited a April 2006 case in which the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals -- by a vote of 19 to 5 -- upheld a three-judge panel of the court's earlier rejection of the American Civil Liberties Union's claim that a Kentucky courthouse violated the First Amendment by displaying a copy of the Ten Commandments found in the Old Testament of the Bible.

In its ruling, the Sixth Circuit went beyond the specifics of the Kentucky case, issuing a broad statement of the Constitution's original intent, dramatically declaring that religious speech is protected by, not at odds with, the First Amendment.

"The First Amendment does not demand a wall of separation between church and state," the three-judge panel had unanimously ruled in December 2005 in an opinion authored by Senior Judge Richard Suhrheinrich of Williamston, a graduate of Michigan State University-Detroit College of Law and a full-time faculty member at Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing.

The Suhrheinrich-authored decision further characterized the American Civil Liberties Union's repeated references to the so-called "separation of church and state" as "extra-constitutional" and "tiresome."

See page 13 of the Court of Appeals panel's December 2005 decision:

"To quote the same Appeals Court that will eventually rule on any free speech lawsuit that results if Supt. Koeze continues to censor Jed Grooters' quotation of the Bible, the superintendent's false claim that the First Amendment requires her to do so is both 'extra-constitutional' and 'tiresome,'" Glenn said. "In fact, the First Amendment requires school officials to both respect and allow Jed to fully practice his First Amendment free speech rights."

Glenn said if the school district refuses to back off its unconstitutional censorship of Grooters' speech Sunday, "Christian legal defense foundations across the country will be waiting in line to provide free legal representation to this courageous, principled young man and his family."

"The question Supt. Koeze and West Ottawa school board members should ponder is how school district taxpayers are likely to feel about being forced to pay attorneys fees and damages when the federal courts reject her blatant violation of Jeb Grooters' First Amendment free speech rights," he said.

The American Family Association of Michigan's mission is to promote and defend traditional Judeo-Christian family values, Glenn said.


The American Family Association of Michigan is asking supporters to contact West Ottawa Schools Superintendent Patricia Koeze to voice their objection to the district's censorship and persecution of Christians:
Supt. Patricia Koeze
Phone: 616-738-5700