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Monday, June 19, 2006

High School to Valedictorian: Faith No More

Jay at Stop the ACLU points us to the story of Brittany McComb, valedictorian of Foothill High School in Clark County, Nevada, whose commencement address was cut off by school administrators because she was about to talk about her faith in Christ.

The decision to cut short McComb’s commencement speech Thursday at The Orleans drew jeers from the nearly 400 graduates and their families that went on for several minutes.

However, Clark County School District officials and an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union said Friday that cutting McComb’s mic was the right call. Graduation ceremonies are school-sponsored events, a stance supported by federal court rulings, and as such may include religious references but not proselytizing, they said.

They said McComb’s speech amounted to proselytizing and that her commentary could have been perceived as school-sponsored.

Before she delivered her commencement speech, McComb met with Foothill administrators, who edited her remarks. It’s standard district practice to have graduation speeches vetted before they are read publicly.

School officials removed from McComb’s speech some biblical references and the only reference to Christ.

Here's my take: The school shouldn't have cut off McComb's mic and the ACLU should know better. McComb is not a school official, and the Constitution wasn't set up to prevent some idiot from having the wrong perception. (And someone should tell Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel for the ACLU of Nevada, that saying your position is backed up by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is usually the equivalent of saying your position is unconstitutional.)

However, what bothers me every time I read a story like this is the lack of understanding of how talking about one's personal faith is completely inappropriate in a commencement address, unless it's just a quick shout out to the Lord. And this was not what McComb had in mind:

"I went through four years of school at Foothill and they taught me logic and they taught me freedom of speech," McComb said. "God's the biggest part of my life. Just like other valedictorians thank their parents, I wanted to thank my lord and savior."

In the 750-word unedited version of McComb's speech, she made two references to the lord, nine mentions of God and one mention of Christ.

In the version approved by school officials, six of those words were omitted along with two biblical references. Also deleted from her speech was a reference to God's love being so great that he gave his only son to suffer an excruciated death in order to cover everyone's shortcomings and forge a path to heaven.

Look, this ain't proselytizing, but it's obnoxious. It's obnoxious to the many people who don't share McComb's beliefs, and honestly it should be obnoxious to those who do believe as she does, because it's the wrong place and the wrong time to be talking about such a personal issue.

McComb was speaking to her fellow students, their families and their friends, all of whom have their own personal views on religion and their own relationship, or lack thereof, with God, and I'm sure the last thing many of them wanted to hear was an extended soliloquy on how Christ died to save their souls. This is no different from someone giving a high school commencement address and talking about her belief that the war in Iraq is illegal, or Bush = Hitler, or John Murtha is a coward, etc. Yes, it's all protected speech (as McComb's should be), but it doesn't belong in a commencement address. To quote the Reverend Jesse Jackson in an old Saturday Night Live episode, "I cannot emphasize this point enough."

If God and/or Jesus is "the biggest part" your life, please, by all means, throw in a sentence thanking Him/Them, tell us how you couldn't have done it without Him/Them, and then move on. Show some respect for your audience and recognize that not everybody shares your beliefs and that they're quite frankly not all that interesting anyway.

Besides, by flapping your gums you're making the after-commencement parties start later.

Update: More thoughts here. Vaguely tasteless humor here.

Blogger trish said...

I listened to this story on the Today show this morning. I think people are confusing freedom of religion with freedom from religion. The school officials denied this girl of her freedom of speech and freedom of religion and in addition denied every person in that audience the chance to hear about her Savior and choose who they will serve. I school was wrong in the decision and I hope that this girl follows through with her legal action against them.

13:43  
Blogger The Cranky Insomniac said...

Again, on First Amendment grounds I think the school should have let her speak.

Again, I think it's tasteless to talk about your savior at a commencement address. The people in the audience didn't come to hear a sermon.

03:05  
Blogger Sojourner said...

I agree in one sense there are times and places for such things. But what is your opinion on the school going to an outside entity(ACLU)for approval. I undersatnd if they kept it to the school board.

13:50  
Blogger The Cranky Insomniac said...

Well, since I don't think the school board should've shut her down on constitutional grounds, I don't think the ACLU should've been involved at all.

Also, did the board go to the ACLU or did the ACLU inject itself? I can't seem to find the answer to that question.

19:38  

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