Eagle Forum Legislative Alerts

Friday, September 19, 2014

School Forbids Salutatorian From Mentioning God

Last spring, a high school student in California was forbidden to mention God at graduation. Brooks Hambly was the salutatorian at his school in the Brawley Union School District, and he wanted to include a prayer for his fellow graduates in his speech. School officials rejected his first two drafts and told him that references to his faith were a violation of the U.S. Constitution. The principal said that if Brooks included religious content in his speech during the ceremony, the microphone would be cut off and a disclaimer would be read to the audience.

Brooks submitted a third draft of his speech directly to the district superintendent. The superintendent crossed out all of Brooks’s religious references with a black marker. However, Brooks chose to proceed with his speech anyway. He quoted from the Bible, encouraged his classmates to “do what is right, ethical, moral, and Godly,” and asked “the God of the Bible” to bless them all. Brooks’s speech was not cut off; he was allowed to finish.

At least the school didn’t carry out its threat to cut off the sound, but this whole incident was an embarrassment. It’s ironic that administrators told Brooks he was in violation of the U.S. Constitution, when the First Amendment was designed to protect free speech. As salutatorian, Brooks was not a school official or a representative of the district—this was personal speech from one student to his classmates. The school was essentially telling him that he was not allowed to pray or to speak freely in front of other students. Someone was definitely violating the Constitution, but it was not the student.

Stories like this are becoming very familiar. Brooks wasn’t the first student to stand up to an overreaching public school, and he won’t be the last. Students should know they don’t need to back down and delete references to religion—Brooks and students like him are on firm legal and constitutional ground.

Listen to the radio commentary here:

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