Texas School Board Shuts Off Microphone Of Valedictorian

Published 4:30 pm Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The United States Supreme Court should have agreed to hear the case of a high school valedictorian whose microphone was cut off by school officials mid-speech when she spoke of how her Christian beliefs contributed to her success.

Attorneys for the Charlottesville-based Rutherford Institute asked the Court to hear the case of Brittany McComb, charging that school officials in Texas violated Ms. McComb's First Amendment right of free speech and acted in a discriminatory way toward her point of view by censoring the speech because a portion of its content was Christian. The Supreme Court declined without offering a single breath of explanation.

As far as the separation of church and state is concerned, the government's preventing someone from speaking of their religious beliefs is arguably just the same as the government forcing someone to speak of their religious beliefs. The school system, in this case, was the agent of the government and its actions toward Ms. McComb seem clearly unconstitutional.

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Establishing the absence of religion-in this case, establishing the absence of Ms. McComb's religious beliefs in her speech-is its own form of violation of the First Amendment's direction against a law establishing religion. The same argument can be made against moves to eradicate In God We Trust from US currency. Atheism is, in its own way, a religious belief and some atheists have no problem trying to force their religious point of view on society as a whole and our nation.

Call it, as some have, “evangelical atheism.”

Leaving the First Amendment's religious applications toward the case aside, the action against Ms. McComb seems a blatant violation of the First Amendment's prohibition against abridging the freedom of speech.

According to a Rutherford Institute press release, Ms. McComb was one of three valedictorians chosen based on their grade-point averages to give a speech during a Texas high school's 2006 commencement exercise. The three were given speech-writing “suggestions.” However, school officials did not encourage or forbid the students from including or excluding religious content from their graduation speeches, according to the Rutherford Institute.

In her commencement address, Ms. McComb spoke of past experiences and lessons learned at school and addressed the emptiness she experienced from accomplishments, achievements and failures in her early high school years, the Rutherford Institute reports. “She then mentioned the fulfillment and satisfaction she later came to experience in something greater than herself, namely, in God's love, and Christ. Upon receiving a copy of Brittany's draft speech, school administrators proceeded to censor her speech, deleting all three Bible references, several references to 'the Lord' and the only mention of the word 'Christ,' the institute's press release states.

“Believing that the district's censorship of her speech amounted to a violation of her right to free speech, on June 15, 2006, Brittany attempted to deliver the original version of her speech in which she talked about the role that her Christian beliefs played in her success. The moment Brittany began to speak the words, school officials cut off her microphone. Despite extensive jeers from the audience over the school officials' actions, McComb was not permitted to finish her valedictory speech,” the Rutherford Institute relates.

The Rutherford Institute helped Ms. McComb file a First Amendment lawsuit against school officials in July 2006 and in June 2007, “the U.S. District Court for Nevada rejected the school district's second attempt to have the case dismissed and affirmed that the lawsuit raises substantial claims of infringement of McComb's right of free speech. School officials subsequently appealed to the Court of Appeals, which dismissed the case, holding that McComb had no right to give her speech, which it deemed to be 'proselytizing.'”

It would have been a different matter had Ms. McComb rushed the stage and grabbed the microphone out of the hands of the valedictorian and proceeded to give a speech but she was invited by school officials to speak, from her personal perspective to her fellow students.

Trying to delete Christian beliefs from Ms. McComb's speech, and then cutting off the microphone when she stood firm, is really no different than had school officials forced a valedictorian to include Christian beliefs in a speech.

Establishing religion and establishing the absence of religion are too similar for the US Supreme Court to ignore.

But throwing the First Amendment aside-as school officials and the US Supreme Court seem to have done already-one wonders why, in a world filled with the darkness of guns, drugs, gangs, violence, any school official anywhere would try and silence one student, invited by them to speak, from talking about where she had found the light.