BILLINGS, MT, May 5, 2009 ( – Attorneys for TheRutherford Institute have filed a free speech lawsuit in the MontanaThirteenth Judicial District Court on behalf of a high schoolvaledictorian who was forbidden from making any remarks at all in herschool’s graduation ceremony after she refused to strip references toGod and Christ from her valedictory speech.

“This is a case of pure censorship and a denial of the freedom ofspeech,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute.”If we don’t begin protecting the right to free speech in the schools,we are going to lose the right to speak entirely.”

Renee Griffith was a co-valedictorian of her 2008 senior class at ButteHigh School, which is operated by Butte School District No. 1. Byvirtue of her scholastic achievements, Renee was selected to speak atthe graduation ceremony on May 30, 2008, along with several otherstudents. The students were instructed to speak about what they hadlearned during their time in high school. Although the valedictorianswere asked to prepare their own remarks, Renee and another student,Ethan, planned to deliver their speeches together, alternatelymentioning things they had learned in school.

The list of lessons learned ranged from the mundane (Renee: “I learnedthat Homecoming Week is a time when people can wear underwear on theoutside of their pants and no one cares”) to the heartfelt (Ethan: “Ilearned that t takes just one person to get a rock rolling down ahill, and likewise, it takes just one person to traverse this planet togather change. The power for change is inherent in humanity and eachindividual. We all have the framework for greatness and impact. Thus,it is important that we all realize the foundation within all of us andstep out to better and further the world”).

Although school officials allegedly did not object to Ethan’stestimonial about humanity’s inherent power for change, they did objectto Renee’s heartfelt statement about how she learned to persevere andnot fear by standing up for her religious convictions: “I learned topersevere these past four years, even through failure ordiscouragement, when I had to stand for my convictions. I can say thatmy regrets are few and far between. I didn’t let fear keep me fromsharing Christ and His joy with those around me. I learned to imparthope, to encourage people to treat each day as a gift. I learned not tobe known for my grades or for what I did during school, but for beingcommitted to my faith and morals and being someone who lived with apurpose from God with a passionate love for Him.”

Just prior to the graduation ceremony, Renee was ordered to remove thewords “Christ” and “God” from her speech and replace them with thefollowing phrases: “sharing my faith” and “lived with a purpose, apurpose derived from my faith and based on a love of mankind.” WhenRenee insisted on her right to use the words of her choice, she wasforbidden from speaking altogether at the graduation ceremony.

A copy of the complaint is available here: