Purdue University Reaches Compromise with Donor Seeking to Engrave ‘God’ on Plaque

Purdue UniversityWEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Officials at Purdue University have reached a compromise with a donor who had sought legal counsel after the university refused to engrave an inscription on his dedication plaque that included a reference to God.

As previously reported, Dr. Michael McCracken and his wife made a donation to the university in 2012, and was asked to provide an inscription for the plaque, which was to be posted at the recently renovated Herrick Laboratories.

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

Last October, university officials informed McCracken that they would not be utilizing the submitted language as they wished to avoid the appearance of promoting religion.

McCracken then contacted the Texas-based Liberty Institute, requesting assistance from the Christian legal organization. Local legal office Covington and Burling LLP also became involved. Late last month, attorney Robert Kelner sent a letter to Purdue on behalf of McCracken and the organizations representing the donor, noting that the university’s reasoning was flawed.

“Even if the McCrackens’ plaque were considered speech by the university—which it is not—the plaque’s simple reference to ‘God’s physical laws’ is in line with references to the divine that have survived, or would certainly survive, an Establishment Clause challenge,” the letter read. “The contested language is similar to the anodyne references printed on money (“In God We Trust”) or intoned before the Supreme Court justices take their seats (“God save … this Honorable Court!”) It also specifically echoes the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence, an indisputably secular document also on display at Purdue, that references “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”

The university argued back that the inscription could still be problematic.

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“We have a great deal of understanding and sympathy for the disappointment of the McCracken family,” legal counsel Steve Schultz wrote in a statement to local television station WLFI. “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 according to an article published this week by the Purdue Exponent, an agreement has now been reached without litigation. The report states that university officials accepted revised language presented by McCracken—still retaining the reference to God, and will post a second plaque notating that the donor’s language is private and that the university is neutral on the matter.

“Dr. Michael McCracken: ‘To all those who seek to better the world through the understanding of God’s physical laws and innovation of practical solutions.’ Dr. Michael and Mrs. Cindy McCracken present this plaque in honor of Dr. William ‘Ed’ and Glenda McCracken and all those similarly inspired to make the world a better place,” the plaque will now read.

McCracken said that he was satisfied with the resolution, noting that he believed it was important to fight for his right to reference God.

“Our Founding Fathers understood the importance of freedom of speech and religious freedoms, yet recognized their dependence on God,” he told the Exponent. “In a society that now seems to fear even mentioning God, I hope that we can remember what this great nation was founded upon and for which tens of thousands have died.”

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