Thursday, June 29, 2006

"Free Speech"

Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have agreed to represent a high school senior whose microphone was unplugged by school officials after she began to speak about her Christian beliefs during her valedictory address. When Foothill High School valedictorian Brittany McComb began reading a speech that contained Bible verses and references to God and her faith in Jesus Christ during her commencement speech on June 15, 2006, officials with the Clark County School District unplugged the microphone. Institute attorneys plan to file a First Amendment lawsuit against the school district for having violated Brittany's constitutional right to free speech and equal protection under the law.

This past spring, graduating senior Brittany McComb was chosen to give the valedictory speech at Foothill High School in Henderson, Nevada. After composing her remarks, she submitted them to school administrators according to standard district policy. School administrators, upon the advice of their district legal counsel, proceeded to censor her speech, deleting all three Bible references, several references to "the Lord" and the only mention of the word "Christ." However, according to the official religious free speech policy of the Clark County School Board, "Where students or other private graduation speakers are selected on the basis of genuinely neutral, evenhanded criteria and retain primary control over the content of their expression...that expression is not attributable to the school and, therefore, may not be restricted because of its religious (or anti-religious) content."

On Thursday, June 15, 2006, Brittany, who graduated with a 4.7 GPA, prepared to deliver her commencement address to her fellow students, families and staff. Believing that the district's censorship of her speech amounted to a violation of her right to free speech, she proceeded to share her personal beliefs about the role that her Christian beliefs played in her success. When school officials found her to be straying from the approved text, they unplugged her microphone, fearing that her remarks could be construed as a school endorsement of her Christian views, despite the "appropriate, neutral disclaimers" provision of the religious speech policy. Brittany claims that she was not preaching or proselytizing but merely stating her thoughts and beliefs upon graduation, as she was invited to do.

This sounds like something out of Soviet Russia or red China, the only difference being that she wasn't marched off to the gulag archipelago, prison, or shoved against a nice brick wall for an appointment with the firing squad. We've not come quite that far, yet; but hey, give us a little time. Rome wasn't built in a day. Nor was the proletariat "freed" in a day. Have patience, folks. We're coming along nicely.

Poor Brittany. Did she not understand that the proper speech requisite should've included extolling the virtues of Big Brother and der schtaat? Had she waxed eloquent about the matriarchy behind the world's success, the loathsome--nay, demonic--origins of Christianity, or the sublimity of her Sexual Fulfillment 101 class, we wouldn't be having this little conversation right now.

Let's walk through this, shall we? Ms. McComb is the school valedictorian. Through hard work and perseverance, she earned the right to speak to her fellow classmates. What is the purpose behind this? It gives insight into what motivated her in her quest for excellence, and it offers inspiration to the other students. There is no other logical explanation for a valedictorian or salutatorian's speech-making.

Naturally, the school took the totalitarian view: "Sure, say whatever you like, as long as it passes muster with our censors, doesn't offend our perceptions, and darlin', make sure the religious references are so amorphous, they're indistinguishable from atheism. Got it? OK, write your little heart out."

Some might accuse Ms. McComb of violating the rules. Some might suggest she was underhanded, and went against the school's authority knowing full-well what she was doing. And some would be wrong.

Her thesis was that she excelled with God's help. She doesn't believe in Muhammed or Zeus or Gaia, but the God of the Bible. Removing these references renders her speech more meaningless than the babbling of Howard Dean with a cleft palate. If one is not allowed free reign in describing one's motivations, what is the point in standing before the graduating class and giving a speech? Why even construct the rickety facade in the first place? Without truth, it becomes a sham of empty phrases.

That the school was concerned about association with a particular creed or religion holds no water, since the speech embodied Ms. McComb's personal observations and beliefs; she was/is not a representative of the school, such as a board member.

Had she stood and spoken in soft wonder about Allah jihadding her through the tough times, Buddha's prodigious belly bouncing her right along, or Kabbala's mysticism imparting knowledge unto her, I doubt we'd've ever heard of Ms. McComb.

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