Graduation speeches, prayers and the First Amendment 2

JISHOU, HUNAN — I may seem to pay too much attention to religion in public high school graduation ceremonies, but for me it’s fascinating to see how the courts resolve two apparently conflicting clauses in the First Amendment. On the one hand, the Establishment Clause states the government can neither promote a particular religion nor prevent the free exercise of any religion. On the other hand, the Free Speech clause prevents the government from limiting or banning speech or any other kind of expression, no matter how obnoxious it may be. So, what happens when someone (a public school student, say) wants to talk about God or religion during a graduation ceremony? A public school is, after all, an institution of the government, so one might assume that student would have to rewrite the speech to omit the God stuff. This is exactly what school officials in a Nevada town believed in 2007 when they told Brittany McComb she had to take her witnessing for Jesus out of her valedictory. At first, McComb agreed, but when it came time to deliver her speech, she still referred to Jesus, etc., and school officials literally pulled the plug on her microphone. Dumb. ...

Brittany McComb’s legal battle ends at Supreme Court 5

JISHOU, HUNAN — Ah, but the wheels of justice turn slowly … ‘Way back in June 2006, high school valedictorian Brittany McComb, after agreeing to school officials’ changes to her Christianity-laced graduation speech, proceeded to use her original text anyway. School officials’ “rapid response team” quickly cut off McComb’s microphone, to avoid anyone getting the idea a public school was preaching Christianity. Mayhem ensued. Well, mostly legal challenges. McComb, who is now a student in Biola University in California, acquired the legal backing of the Rutherford Institute, which filed a complaint in federal district court alleging Clark County, Nev., school officials had trampled her rights of free speech and equal protection under the law. The court found in favor of the school officials. McComb took her case to the federal appeals court, which found no reason to overturn the previous ruling. Then she took it to the Supreme Court, where it died a quiet death. (Technically, the SCOTUS denied a petition for a writ of certiorari, meaning the Justices were not going to tell the lower courts to hear the case all over again.) So, what’s it all mean? McComb’s attorneys claimed that Foothill High School, by attempting to cut ...

Some more followups

JISHOU, HUNAN — Here’s what I’ve been able to glean from the ‘Net about a few other school-related stories I have followed. Brittany McComb — This Nevada high school senior defied school authorities in 2006 and gave a valedictory that mentioned not only her own Christian devotion but encouraged others to follow Christ too. School officials pulled the plug on her microphone, but she continued to deliver the address. With the support of the conservative Rutherford Institute, McComb filed a civil rights suit in US District Court that July against the school district and the individual school officials. She appeared on Hannity and Fox on cable TV, and ended up a darling of the Christian right. As of Dec. 2007, the case was stalled in the US Court of Appeals, so it may be a while before anything noteworthy happens. McComb is currently a student at Biola University, a Bible-based institution in California. Tericka Dye — A much loved science teacher in western Kentucky, Dye lost her job in 2006 after it got out she had appeared in a few porn movies as “Rikki Andersin” more than decade before. She appealed her dismissal, but lost. She got her moments of ...

Updates to school-related posts 2: Brittany McComb

Nevada senior Brittany McComb made a name for herself in June 2006 when she delivered a valedictory that testified to her love for Jesus, and encouraged other students to find Him. She had earlier agreed to leave such remarks out of the speech. School officials disconnected her mike in the middle of her delivery in response. Juvenile behavior all around. McComb, who is now a freshman at a Christian school, Biola University in California, became the darling of conservative Christians looking for more examples of the “war on Christianity” and the pernicious influence of the American Civil Liberties Union. The conservative legal group, the Rutherford Institute, agreed to take her case to the U.S. District Court in Nevada, alleging her free speech rights were violated. The text of the suit is here — Adobe Reader required. The case has been stalled in the courts since. The defendants in McComb’s suit filed two motions to dismiss, which the district court judge denied. They have since appealed to the Ninth District Court of Appeals in California, and filed opening briefs earlier this month. Rutherford Institute attorney Doug McKusick says McComb’s lawyers will file their replies in January. The case raises several issues. ...
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