Foothill High & The First Amendment

, Nisha N. Mohammed, Leave a comment

LAS VEGAS, Nev.—A high school senior whose microphone was turned off after she began speaking about the importance of religion in her life during her valedictory address will have her day in court, ruled a federal judge in response to oral arguments by attorneys for The Rutherford Institute. When Foothill High School valedictorian Brittany McComb began reading a speech that contained Bible verses and references to God and her faith in Jesus Christ during her commencement speech on June 15, 2006, officials with the Clark County School District turned the microphone off. Having filed a First Amendment lawsuit against the school officials in July 2006, Institute attorneys are asking the court to declare that school officials deprived McComb of her rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

“We’re pleased that the court recognizes the validity of Brittany McComb’s claims,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “This is an important first step in protecting Brittany’s right to free speech.”

This past spring, graduating senior Brittany McComb was chosen to give the valedictory speech at Foothill High School in Henderson, Nev., by virtue of achieving the highest GPA in the school. After composing her remarks, she submitted them to school administrators according to standard district policy. School administrators, with the advice of their district legal counsel, censored her speech, deleting all three Bible references, several references to “the Lord” and the only mention of the word “Christ.”

On Thursday, June 15, 2006, McComb delivered her commencement address to over 400 fellow students, families and staff. However, believing that the district’s censorship of her speech amounted to a violation of her right to free speech, she attempted to deliver the original version of her remarks in which she shares her personal beliefs about the role that her Christian beliefs played in her success. When school officials found her to be straying from the approved text, they cut off her microphone, thus ending the address. Despite extensive jeers from the audience over the school officials’ actions, McComb was not permitted to finish giving her valedictory speech.

In filing suit against Foothill High School officials, Rutherford Institute attorneys stated, “Brittany’s stellar academic performance qualified and entitled her to address her classmates at graduation in her own words, yet the Defendants, and each of them, sought to censor her speech, coerce her into giving a different speech in violation of her conscience, and interfere with and censor the delivery of her speech, all based upon her religious belief and viewpoint.”

Nisha N. Mohammed works with the Rutherford Institute, the original source of this article.