By James Tillman
BILLINGS, Montana, March 1, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Last Wednesday Judge Gregory Todd ruled in a summary judgment that a student at Butte High School was not unconstitutionally censored for refusing to remove references to Christ and God from her valedictory speech. Her attorney has said that they will appeal to the Montana Supreme Court.
Renee Griffith, one of the ten valedictorians in her class, had planned to say that she “didn't let fear keep me from sharing Christ and his joy with those around me” in her 2008 address. The high school student would also have spoken of “being someone who lived with a purpose from God with a passionate love for him.”
The principal of Butte High School, John Metz, and the superintendent for Butte School District No. 1, Charles Uggetti, asked Griffith to replace the phrase “Christ and his joy” with “my faith,” and “from God with a passionate love for him” with “derived from my faith and based on a love of mankind,” according to the Billings Gazette.
Because she refused to make the changes, Metz and Uggetti did not permit her to speak.
Judge Todd's judgment states that such a prohibition was not “taken in response to Griffith's personal religious beliefs … nor were [the defendant's actions] unlawfully discriminatory.”
Because the “policies and practices of the District prohibiting religious speech during graduation ceremonies are applied evenly to all student speakers,” he continued, the policy was “drafted with the specific intent of maintaining [school] District neutrality toward's religion, as is required by the Establishment Clause.”
The Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
“We disagree with his interpretation of the Constitution, and we'll be taking it to the Montana Supreme Court,” Griffith's attorney, William J. O'Connor II, told LifeSiteNews (LSN). “I believe it's viewpoint discrimination, and therefore there is no neutral ground.”
“You can't say people can speak on their personal point of view except if their personal point of view involves religion,” he continued. “I believe that has already been handled by several US Supreme Court cases, [although] it is a case of first impression in Montana, which is why we're going to the Supreme Court of the state.”
O'Connor is being assisted in the case by the Rutherford Institute, an organization dedicated to protecting constitutional and human rights.
Griffith originally filed a complaint with the Human Rights Bureau of the State of Montana in July of 2008. After the Bureau dismissed her complaint, Griffith filed a further complaint in the Montana Thirteenth Judicial District Court in April of 2009, alleging that six state and federal rights were violated by Uggetti and Metz.
“This is a case of pure censorship and a denial of the freedom of speech,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, when the case was first filed.
“If we don't begin protecting the right to free speech in the schools, we are going to lose the right to speak entirely.”
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