Subject: From the American Center for Law and Justice
Student Censorship Case Update
Yesterday, we sent a letter to Patricia Spencer, President of Victor Valley Community College in Victorville, CA, demanding that the college reverse a low grade given by adjunct instructor Michael Shefchik to student Bethany Hauf for including references to God in a paper written for an English class. It is absolutely unbelievable that a student would be punished for presenting a thoughtful and well-written paper that included references to God. The actions by the instructor reflect a profound hostility toward religious expression, and his actions clearly violate the constitutional rights of the student.
Hauf notified the instructor that her topic for the research paper would be “Religion and Its Place within the Government.” In an email to Hauf, Shefchik, a self-described atheist, said the topic was within the bounds of the assignment. However, he put one troubling condition on Hauf’s paper: “I have one limiting factor,” wrote Shefchik, “no mention of the big “G” gods, i.e., one, true god argumentation.” Hauf’s paper included a thoughtful and historical look at the role that God and religion have played in the formation of our country and government.
After presenting a draft of the paper to Shefchik, as required by course requirements, Hauf was told that because she had written off topic about God, at best, she would be graded 69 out of a possible 100 points. Shefchik told Hauf that among the reasons for the low grade was that references to “God” could be offensive. After presenting her paper on Friday, Shefchik handed out the final grade on Monday and gave Hauf a score of 49 out of a possible 100 points for the research paper.
In our letter to the college president, we contended that the actions of the instructor violated the First Amendment rights of Hauf, including numerous rulings of the Supreme Court of the United States which safeguard student speech and expression. We demanded that the college order the instructor to end his discriminatory treatment, recalculate and reverse the scoring for the paper, and apologize to the student for his discriminatory treatment of her views. We are giving the school an opportunity to correct this injustice before federal litigation is considered.