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Purdue, donors split over God reference on plaque

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press
Friday, February 28, 2014 - 4:37 pm

WEST LAFAYETTE — A couple who donated $12,500 to Purdue University might sue unless the school reverses course by allowing an inscription for their dedication plaque that includes a reference to God, their attorney said.

Purdue graduates Michael and Cynthia McCracken were asked what wording they wanted for a conference room plaque after they made the donation to the School of Mechanical Engineering in 2012, the couple's lawyer, Robert Kelner, told the Journal & Courier.

They proposed an inscription — dedicated to Michael McCracken's parents — that would say, "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 officials say the dedication was rejected because its use of the word "God" could be considered a government endorsement of religion since it is a public institution.

Kelner said the First Amendment allows the proposed wording as private speech and the McCrackens might sue if the dispute isn't resolved.

"Purdue asked Dr. McCracken to supply language of his choice in recognition of his and his wife's generous pledge to their alma mater," Kelner said. "He chose language that honors the values instilled by his parents — Ed, also a Purdue alumnus, and Glenda, who recently passed away."

The McCrackens are being supported in the dispute by the Liberty Institute, a Plano, Texas-based conservative advocacy group.

Steve Schultz, Purdue's legal counsel, said school officials understand the McCrackens' disappointment, but are worried about expensive litigation if their inscription was allowed.

"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," Schultz said.

Kelner said university officials haven't responded to alternative wording that the McCrackens suggested since the proposed inscription was first turned down in October.

"We have offered to the university to make whatever changes they want us to make to make it blindingly clear to any reader that this is speech by the McCrackens and not the university," Kelner said.