Advancing Religious Liberty
3/5/13 at 10:24 AM 5 Comments

Censorship of Religious Expression at Graduation Ceremonies...Here We Go Again

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Author: Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco

A.M. v. Taconic Hills Central School District involves a public school’s decision to censor the free speech of the 8th Grade Class Co-President at a graduation ceremony. Why? She planned to positively encourage her classmates by paraphrasing a few verses from the Bible. When the Second Circuit upheld the school’s determination that the student couldn’t include a religious message at the end of her speech, we could not stand idly by, so we took the case.

Because of the wrong-headed church-state separationist mindset foisted on our culture by groups like the ACLU and Freedom from Religion Foundation, many people (including public school officials) wrongly think that religion must be cleansed from public school graduation ceremonies. In addition to being untrue, flat bans on religious expression at these ceremonies likely violate the First Amendment rights of student graduation speakers.

Our new case presents a perfect example. Our client sought to express the types of sentiments you typically hear from student speakers at graduation ceremonies: encouraging words concerning their classmates’ peace, prosperity, and happiness in the future. Specifically, she planned to paraphrase Numbers 6:24-26, by saying, “As we say our goodbyes and leave middle school behind, I say to you, may the Lord bless you and keep you, make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.”

Why was our client prohibited from expressing this sentiment? Because the school district deemed her words “too religious” for a graduation ceremony. However, the critical First Amendment protection against religious viewpoint discrimination applies fully to student speakers during graduation ceremonies. Therefore, we’ve asked the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the original ruling that supported the misguided stance of the school district. We certainly hope the full Second Circuit will recognize the right of religious students to freely express their positive, religious words of encouragement at important public school events, like graduation ceremonies.

This post originally appeared here.

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