HENDERSON, Nev. – Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have agreed to represent a high school senior whose microphone was unplugged by school officials after she began to speak about her Christian beliefs during her valedictory address. 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 unplugged the microphone. Institute attorneys plan to file a First Amendment lawsuit against the school district for having violated Brittany’s constitutional right to free speech and equal protection under the law.
“This is yet another example of a politically correct culture silencing Christians in order to not offend those of other beliefs,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “Brittany McComb worked hard to earn the right to address her classmates as valedictorian and she has a constitutional right-like any other student-to freely speak about the factors that contributed to her success, whether they be a supportive family, friends or her faith in Jesus Christ.”
This past spring, graduating senior Brittany McComb was chosen to give the valedictory speech at Foothill High School in Henderson, Nevada. After composing her remarks, she submitted them to school administrators according to standard district policy. School administrators, upon the advice of their district legal counsel, proceeded to censor her speech, deleting all three Bible references, several references to “the Lord” and the only mention of the word “Christ.” However, according to the official religious free speech policy of the Clark County School Board, “Where students or other private graduation speakers are selected on the basis of genuinely neutral, evenhanded criteria and retain primary control over the content of their expression…that expression is not attributable to the school and, therefore, may not be restricted because of its religious (or anti-religious) content.”
On Thursday, June 15, 2006, Brittany, who graduated with a 4.7 GPA, prepared to deliver her commencement address to her fellow students, families and staff. Believing that the district’s censorship of her speech amounted to a violation of her right to free speech, she proceeded to share 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 unplugged her microphone, fearing that her remarks could be construed as a school endorsement of her Christian views, despite the “appropriate, neutral disclaimers” provision of the religious speech policy. Brittany claims that she was not preaching or proselytizing but merely stating her thoughts and beliefs upon graduation, as she was invited to do.
Rutherford Institute attorneys plan to file suit in federal district court in defense of Brittany’s First Amendment right to free speech and Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection under the law.
Nisha Mohammed is the press contact for The Rutherford Institute based in Charlottesville, Virginia.