High-School Valedictorian Sues School for Muting Speech Thanking Jesus
By Peter J. Smith
LAS VEGAS, Nevada, July 14, 2006 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The Rutherford Institute, a conservative legal group, has agreed to represent a Nevada valedictorian in a lawsuit against her school for violating her right to freedom of speech and religious expression.
Brittany McComb, the 18 year old valedictorian graduate of Foothill High School was publicly censored by school officials during her June 15th commencement address.
The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court of Nevada, and names the principal, the assistant principal, and the school employee who turned off the sound system on McComb as defendants.
The Rutherford Institute released a video of McComb’s commencement address, held at The Orleans hotel-casino in Las Vegas, where 400 graduates and their families were gathered for the Foothills High School Graduation. School officials had warned McComb against veering away from the school-censored text that expunged any mention of Jesus or the Bible. They made good on a threat to cut her off when a school employee pulled the plug on the microphone in the middle of McComb’s speech to her graduating class.
The video shows McComb speaking, “God’s love is so great that He gave His only Son up,” whereupon the sound system was cut off leaving her to continue without amplification. She continued, “âEUR¦ to an excruciating death on a cross so his blood would cover all our shortcomings and provide for us a way to heaven in accepting this grace.” The audience became outraged at the school’s censorship, booing, and chanting “Let her speak!”
“This is yet another example of a politically correct culture silencing Christians in order to not offend those of other beliefs,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “Brittany McComb worked hard to earn the right to address her classmates as valedictorian and she has a constitutional right—like any other student—to freely speak about the factors that contributed to her success, whether they be a supportive family, friends or her faith in Jesus Christ.”
School officials defended their actions by saying they warned McComb not to deviate from the approved text. The Clark County School District legal counsel Bill Hoffman said the speech amounted to proselytizing, and the school had to keep in line with 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rulings that mandated school districts to censor speeches for proselytizing. The 9th Circuit is also the same court that ruled in favor of an atheist who argued that the Pledge was unconstitutional for the reference “of one nation, under God”, but which also found that California world history curricula involving students repeating Islamic prayers, custom, and creed did not involve an establishment of religion.
Allen Lichtenstein, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, defended the schools actions, saying that the ACLU had sued in the past to make sure schools did not permit proselytizing at school events.
Brittany McComb defended her right to her freedom of religious expression and freedom of speech. “In my heart I couldn’t say the edited version because it wasn’t what I wanted to say,” McComb said in an interview with the Associated Press. “I wanted to say why I was successful, and what inspired me to keep going and what motivated me. It involved Jesus Christ for me, period.”
“God’s the biggest part of my life,” McComb previously stated. “Just like the other valedictorians thank their parents, I wanted to thank my Lord and Saviour.”