A Purdue alumnus and donor has threatened a lawsuit because the university turned down his proposed wording of a memorial plaque because it contained a reference to God.
Michael McCracken and his wife recently donated $12,500 to Purdue’s School of Mechanical Engineering. The university asked McCracken for wording on a dedication plaque that would be displayed inside a conference room.
McCracken says his proposed wording was a tribute to his parents, who had recently passed away: “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.”
Purdue said it could not accept the wording because, as a public university, the reference to God could be considered an establishment of religion and a violation of the First Amendment.
But Jeremiah Dys, senior counsel with the Liberty Institute, says that’s nonsense.
“Dr. McCracken’s plaque is private speech, and therefore is protected by the First Amendment under the Supreme Court precedent that we have,” Dys says. “Purdue allows dozens of other private speakers to express their values and views all over the campus of Purdue. It cannot legally single out Dr. McCracken for discrimination.”
Lawyer for Purdue Steven Schultz believes that court precedent is not clear.
“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,” said Schultz in a statement.
McCracken has given Purdue another wording of the plaque that Dys says makes it clear the words are the private thoughts of the McCracken family and not Purdue.
He says Purdue has not yet responded, nor have they responded to a letter asking for action to be taken by next Wednesday, March 5th, or face a possible lawsuit.
“We remain open to continued discussions, as we’d much prefer to be in the mode of expressing gratitude, not disagreement, to our donors,” said Schultz.