Monday, June 19, 2006

Christian, Speak Thy Faith


She knew her speech as valedictorian of Foothill High School would be cut short, but Brittany McComb was determined to tell her fellow graduates what was on her mind and in her heart. But before she could get to the word in her speech that meant the most to her -- Christ -- her microphone went dead.

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.

"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.

District legal counsel Bill Hoffman said the regulation allows students to talk about religion, but speeches can't cross into the realm of preaching. "We review the speeches and tell them they may not proselytize," Hoffman said. "We encourage people to talk about religion and the impact on their lives. But when that discussion crosses over to become proselytizing, then we to tell students they can't do that."

Interesting that we never learn what the word was that caused the school to cut this girl's mic.

There's a certain point at which the desire to separate church and state needs to yield to simple desires, like thanking your God on your Graduation day. I find the notion that this could be attributed as school-sponsored speech to be eye-rollingly laughable. This girl's worked her ass off. She's been selected as Valedictorian, presumably, because she earned the best grades. Surely that entitles her to a few minutes of free, personal expression?

What sort of inbred, cousin-humping, backwoods ninny do you need to be to confuse the farewell speech of a teenage girl with the opinion of the school?


At 8:57 PM, Anonymous Hattie said...

This is the sort of thing that the wingnuts love to pick up on as an example of the persecution of Christians. My impulse is to ignore the whole fracas. Let the girl praise her lord if she wants. There are lots more offensive things going on than that.
However, give them an inch...
In my teaching days in a correctional facility I was subjected to more Christianity from my students than was easy to stomach. It is so out of place from my teacherly perspective to read pages and pages about coming to the Lord.
It is no fun, also, to have to tell a group of Pentacostal Russian students that we cannot adopt the Bible as our only teaching text in their class.
These are but two examples. I have many many more.
Teachers like me are tired of all this religiosity, and it makes us short tempered at times. Please forgive us.

At 10:44 PM, Blogger codemorse said...

Let the girl praise her lord if she wants. There are lots more offensive things going on than that.

That's all I'm saying.

Frankly, I'm just as tired of hearing about how overbearing Christians are as I am of hearing about how persecuted they are.

I'm sure you've had your share of bad experiences, but personally, I've never met a Christian (no matter how zealous, and I've met some ZEALOTS) that I couldn't politely steer from religion as a topic. Just as annoying as the zealots are the skeptic crusaders who seem determined to prove Christianity as a sham seemingly because it somehow raped their childhoods (and sadly, in some cases, it did).

Let the girl say thanks to God. No one is going to be hurt by that. Now, if the school had hired someone to come talk to the children about this? That's where I'd draw a line.

At 9:00 AM, Blogger Scott Roche said...

Here's my question though, if the school edited her speech and she knew going in that they wanted her to curb proselytizing (whether that's right or wrong of them to do) and she did it anyway isn't that wrong of her? I think so.

And believe me when I say that agreeing with the ACLU pains me.

I too though would like to know when they cut her. I'm assuming it was when she left the script.

At 9:50 AM, Blogger codemorse said...

I assume so as well.

Yes, she was "wrong" to have deviated from what she was told was appropriate. But I guess I feel like it's wrong to have required her to do so in the first place.

She's been selected as Valedictorian. Shouldn't she be able to say anything she wants, short of inciting violence or promoting hate speech?

I might be uncomfortable listening to her talk about her faith in that sort of environment, but does my potential discomfort outweigh her freedom to speak her mind?

Since, in my admittedly layman's opinion, the notion that her speech might be considered as "school sponsored" is kind of ridiculous, I find it difficult to see a good reason for cutting her off.

The ACLU here (an organization I usually can get behind - stinking lib that I am) is doing exactly what conservatives accuse them of (usually, I think, falsely). They're fighting these small battles to the detriment of the larger war. Shouldn't the American Civil Liberties Union be concerned about this girl's right to speak freely?

At 11:57 AM, Anonymous jillofalltrades said...

It's too bad we don't have access to the unedited speech itself. It's kind of hard to assess the situation without it.

Overall I agree with Codemorse and would have no issue with a student invoking God in her speech in reference to her life. But I would be lying if I said it wouldn't bother me if the valedictorian speech suddenly turned into "I pray for all the unsaved who have not yet found Christ, and hope they can one day accept his gifts the way I have..."

But we don't know whether the speech careened down that road -- the one snippet from the speech that did make it into the article implies it did. So who knows -- until someone publishes the actual text, it shall remain a mystery.

At 11:59 AM, Blogger Jabawacefti said...

There's one point of which I agree strongly with here, and that's Codemorse's point that no reasonable person would consider a high school student's speech "endorsed" by the school. The school doesn't write the speech, employ the speaker, or circumscribe the subject matter of the speech in any other way (other than cutting out the religion) to suggest that it is endorsing a particular viewpoint.

From what I understand, the valedictorian gets to right to say whatever they want, as long as it's not patently offensive. For anyone to consider a student's speech under such circumstances "endorsement" you'd have to believe that the school somehow favors Christian students in the hope that one of them will be valedictorian and spread the gospel. And as Hattie has amply demonstrated, that is highly unlikely to be true.

At 12:01 PM, Blogger Jabawacefti said...

And to be clear, by "patently offensive," I mean that you can't have someone saying, "all Jews should die," or "soy cheese is just as good as real cheese."

At 12:31 PM, Blogger Scott Roche said...

The ACLU leaping to the defense of someone engaging in speach about their faith is just crazy talk. It'll never happen.

If the school didn't have the editing policy in place then I'd be all about leaping to her defense. Or if her new speach consisted of "This school won't let me mention God or Jesus so I'm forfeiting my speech." that would've also been cool, even admirable. As it is, they said no and she exhibited her faith by trying to hijack the procedings (or so the article implies). That's not really admirable at all.

Should she be able to say what she wants (within reason)? Yes! Should the ACLU devend her right to do so? Yes! Would anyone view her speech as "school-sponsored"? In these litigous, cra-zazy days yes probably so.

The school was wrongly playing a game of CYA and as wrong as they are I can understand it. The ACLU has brought suits against schools for less. How different is this case from student led prayer?

At 2:10 PM, Blogger codemorse said...


Let me be the first to say how much I love that avatar.


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