"Hello, this is The Michigan Daily. I'm calling to say we've decided not to run your ad on Tuesday. A quorum of editors will vote to decide if we'll run it at all."
The editor's words to CLM representative Charlie Mack on April 1, 1993, could have been the final say in cancelling the Christian faculty's Easter ad at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.
Could have been . . .
But the faculty took quick and decisive action and prevented the open censorship of their faith.
For years, the Christian faculty at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor have run Christmas and Easter ads in the school paper. Typically, the ads display an eye-catching phrase or picture and a statement of their belief in Jesus Christ as God's Son. The ads also prominently list those participating faculty who agree with the statement.
When faculty first ran an evangelistic ad in the paper at Ann Arbor, the ad stirred up some disagreement from a few professors on campus. They accused the Christian faculty of violating separation of church and state laws by including department names and phone numbers in the ad. University counsel and the ACLU settled the issue: the Christians were well within their rights.
Two years passed before controversy with Christian ads once again rose to the surface. In early 1993, a student Christian group submitted an ad produced by the Focus on the Family ministry in defense of virginity. The Michigan Daily refused to run the conservative advertisement.
"Well, I guess we just can't run it then," was the attitude that the student group assumed, according to CLM representative Charlie Mack. "They just gave up," he said.
On the afternoon of Thursday, April 1, Mack turned in the print-ready and paid-for faculty Easter ad at The Daily office, just as he had done four months previously for their Christmas ad. Later that same afternoon the Michigan Daily called with the news that it would probably refuse to run the ad.
"We were much more to the point this time in the ad about the significance of the resurrection," said Mack. "Maybe that's what set them off. Of course, in the past the paper has included ads for gay rights groups and holocaust revisionists."
Mack immediately contacted the steering committee of the Christian faculty fellowship. Its members unanimously agreed to take legal action if necessary. Mack then called Dr. Scott Luley, director of CLM's Free Speech Project.
Friday morning, Luley contacted a Christian legal group and within half an hour a fax was on the editor's desk at the Daily.
"The United States Supreme Court held that once a state university designates an area or medium as a limited purpose public forum for free speech by students," the fax read, "any exclusions based on the content of the speech must be narrowly drawn to effectuate a compelling state interest."
Mack explained that "if the university paper accepts anything, they cannot refuse this type of ad. They could only reject an ad if it were blatantly pornographic or some such thing."
After receiving the fax, the paper called Mack to say they would make a decision by noon that same day. At 2 p.m. Mack visited the paper, but was told The Daily wanted to wait until Good Friday to print the ad, if at all.
This prompted another call to the Christian legal group who, in turn, called the newspaper's attorney that same afternoon. A representative of the Christian group explained to The Daily attorney in no uncertain terms "that if the ad didn't run, we would press charges and sue for damages within ten days," said Mack.
On Monday morning, when Dr. John Drach, a member of the Christian faculty fellowship, arrived in his office he found a message from The Daily on his answering machine. The paper agreed to run the ad.
"The paper has strict deadlines," said Mack, "and at that point the earliest they could have run the ad was Thursday, the day before Good Friday. But instead they extended their deadline and got it in Wednesday's paper.
"When I shared this with the faculty and the Christian campus groups, they were elated. Everyone agreed that it was about time the Christians won one."
On Wednesday the ad did indeed appear in the paper-a compelling display citing evidence for the resurrection and followed by 62 names of staff and faculty on the campus of the University of Michigan.