I’m sure everyone is aware that referencing God in a speech can be a dicey thing these days, especially if you are a graduating senior delivering a Valedictorian or Salutatorian speech.
Well, for Salutatorian Brooks Hamby, the Brawley Union High School District in Brawley, California made it very clear to him that God had no place in his speech.
Speaking as their legal representatives, the San Diego law firm of Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud and Romo informed him in a ten page letter “It is well established in the Ninth Circuit and California that a public school salutatorian has no constitutional right to lead a prayer or include sectarian or proselytizing content in his/her graduation speech.”
Really? Is that so? Let’s see who says what about this, starting with Brawley School Superintendent Dr. Hasmik Danielian, who states in her Superintendent’s Message that “The Brawley Union High School District is committed to equal opportunities for all individuals…shall be free from discrimination based on gender, sex, race, color, religion…” Hmmh.
What about the Ninth Circuit of the Court of Appeals. Research shows they had decided several issues concerning religious speech in the case of John Niemeyer et al versus the Oroville Union High School District et al in their ruling #99-16550.
First, they decided that “(a graduation) invocation would not have been private speech…and therefore constituted impermissible government sponsorship of religious activity under the Establishment Clause.”
Most important to Hamby’s case was that the Ninth Circuit’s Oroville ruling did not address the mention of God in a Valedictorian or Salutatorian’s speech. That issue was very clearly not part of this suit.
Therefore, the Ninth Court of Appeals had NOT ruled that Hamby’s speech would violate the Establishment Clause as indicated by the Brawley Union School District’s lawyers.
Their final justification was that the California’ Constitution banned such speeches.
Here what their constitution actually says: Article One of the California Constitution’s Declaration of Rights Section Two Subsection a) states that “Every person may freely speak, write and publish his or her sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of this right. A law may not restrain or abridge liberty of speech or press.”
It turns out that Hamby had submitted several versions of his speech for District approval. In response, the Brawley School District had, according to an article in Fox News, “redacted references to Jesus and the Christian faith in three previous versions of Hamby’s speech.
One administrator went so far as to redact every religious reference with a black marker – as if it were some sort of top-secret government document.”
So, what did Hamby do? According to the same Fox News article, he wrote a fourth version of his speech, which included his wish that “May the God of the Bible bless each and every one of you every day in the rest of your lives.”
What happened next? The proverbial you-know-what hit the old fan. Liberty Institute lawyers agreed to represent him. They, in turn, demanded that the school district apologize for censoring the boy’s speech.
The school district responded by insisting the school district was required by law to censor his speech in order to “avoid an Establishment Clause violation.”
So, as I am not a lawyer I checked out what this “Establishment Clause” actually states. According to Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute, the First Amendment's Establishment Clause “prohibits the government from making any law respecting an establishment of religion.”
This simply means there can be no official state religion, as there is in Japan (Shintoism). It also forbids any governmental preference of one religion/non-religion over any other. Hamby was a student, and a private individual, and certainly not a representative of our government!
In addition, the First Amendment itself states very clearly that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people…”
That, to me, is exactly what the Brawley Union High School District tried to do. This was religious censorship at its worst, as Hamby was simply asking God to bless all his fellow graduates and not win any one over to Christianity.
It’s no surprise to me that this happened in California, for it is there the concept of protecting free speech has really come to mean that an individual has no right to say anything at all!
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