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U.S. Supreme Court Puts an End to High School Valedictorian's Fight to Defend Right to Speak Freely About Her Christian Beliefs at Graduation

by Staff
November 18, 2009
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WASHINGTON, (christiansunite.com) -- The United States Supreme Court has refused to hear the case of a high school valedictorian whose microphone was turned off by school officials after she began speaking about the part her Christian beliefs played in her success in life. Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute had asked the Court to hear the case of Brittany McComb, charging that school officials violated McComb's free speech rights and engaged in viewpoint discrimination when they censored her speech because of its Christian content. The Court issued the order denying the petition without additional explanation.

"This is a sad day for the cause of freedom," said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. "When the Supreme Court cannot clear their calendar to hear a case of this magnitude, then our freedoms are in jeopardy. Such censorship and discrimination should not be permitted in America."

In the spring of 2006, Brittany McComb was one of three valedictorians chosen based on their grade- point averages to give a speech at Foothill High School's annual commencement ceremony. Each valedictorian was provided with "suggestions" for crafting their speeches. However, school officials neither encouraged nor forbade the students to include or exclude religious content from their speeches.

In her speech, Brittany reflected on past experiences and lessons learned at school and wrote about the emptiness she experienced from accomplishments, achievements and failures in her early high school years. 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."

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. With the assistance of The Rutherford Institute, Brittany McComb filed a First Amendment lawsuit against Foothill High School officials in July 2006. 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." Video footage of McComb's interrupted speech and The Rutherford Institute's Supreme Court petition are available at www.rutherford.org.

The Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit legal and educational civil liberties organization, provides legal assistance at no charge to individuals whose constitutional rights have been threatened or been violated.

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