Donor Wins First Amendment Dispute to Have 'God' on University Plaque

A donor and his wife have won a First Amendment dispute against Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., and will be allowed to reference "God" in their donor plaque.

Purdue University received criticism from the local community after telling donors Dr. Michael McCracken and his wife that they could not mention "God" on a dedication plaque because the school, as a public institution receiving state and federal funds, would be violating the U.S. Constitution's Establishment clause. The plaque was dedicated to McCracken as a result of his generous donation in 2012 of $12,500, and the plaque was to grace a conference room at the newly-renovated Herrick Laboratories on campus.

When the university initially denied mentioning God on the plaque, it instead suggested the plaque only include the names of McCracken's parents. McCracken stuck to his values, and with the help of the Liberty Institute and a personal lawyer, the donor was able to successfully convince the university to install the plaque with the original wording. His legal representatives even mentioned last week that their client was prepared to go to court over the issue if it could not be resolved.

"I believe that there are certain situations in life where one must decide if they are going to stand for their principles -- regardless of whether or not it is the easiest or most convenient option," McCracken said in a statement this week. "That is why my wife and I felt it so important to resolve this issue instead of ignoring it. Our Founding Fathers understood the importance of freedom of speech and religious freedoms, yet recognized their dependence on God."

The plaque that will sit in the Herrick Laboratories now reads: "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 university released a statement clarifying that it never intended to cause one of its generous donors distress, but was merely respecting what it thought to be the law in order to avoid a lengthy and expensive legal battle.

"We never had a disagreement in principle with Dr. McCracken," Purdue Vice President for Development Amy Noah said in a statement. "Purdue's initial response reflected our recognition of the legal requirement to remain neutral on matters of religion, but we were always sympathetic to his disappointment."

"We certainly never intended to get into a disagreement with a valued donor or inadvertently expose Purdue to a potential legal crossfire," Noah continued. "Since receiving Dr. McCracken's request to reconsider in late January, we have been considering ways to accommodate his wishes. We're very pleased to have achieved that outcome and remain grateful for his generosity."

According to The Indianapolis Star, Purdue's initial reaction to the issue sparked criticism from fellow donors of the college, who suggested the McCracken couple take back their donation or the university offer to return it and not post the plaque. Fox News also reports that some alumni were so upset over the issue that they also threatened to withhold donations if the issue went unresolved.