Erring on the side of censorship (Brittany McComb’s address cut short)
US government schools are becoming Christ-free zones
21 July 2006
Becoming valedictorian1 is hard work, and a student making the valedictorian’s address has every reason to be thrilled with this accomplishment. It is common in this address for the speaker to credit those who have helped the student reach that podium. One example is Brittany McComb (right), top student at Foothill High School in Clark County, Nevada, who graduated with a 4.7 GPA.2
But when she tried to thank the Person most important to her success (which many in the audience cheered), the school cut off her microphone, to the dismay of everyone in the auditorium. The school administrators had removed references to God and Jesus from her speech, and when she tried to thank Jesus anyway, they pulled the plug as 400 people jeered the school’s decision and shouted, ‘Let her speak! Let her speak!’. See Video footage of the interrupted speech and the hostile audience reaction to the cutoff.
This is far from an isolated case—more and more, schools in the West are becoming ‘God-free’ zones where any Christian religious display is forbidden. The main US teachers’ union, the National Education Association (NEA) is only too happy with this, since they have a history of bigoted opposition to creation and support for abortion and ‘gay’ rights including gay marriage.
However, schools seem all too happy to accommodate other religions, as is shown by a California school which required its students to go through a course to learn how to become Muslims. And while they can’t abide students learning that top students might believe in Christ, they are happy for students to learn how to have their babies aborted without their parents’ knowledge and that gay couples are OK. And the humanists have always been open about making government schools, in effect, temples where students can be ‘proselytized’ into their faith of humanism.
Aside from anti-Christian bias, an excuse for cutting off Brittany’s microphone was fear of a vexatious lawsuit from someone who might be ‘offended’ by her references to God. That is, the claim is that the school could be liable for violating the establishment clause of the First Amendment. So what is this clause exactly?
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
It is a popular misconception that the First Amendment of the American Constitution prohibits any religious reference in public places. In fact, the word ‘establishment’ had a very clear meaning at the time: the authors intended to prohibit an established church, i.e. an official national church endorsed by the new country of the United States of America, such as the Anglican or Church of England. This was mainly meant to eliminate any chance that non-favoured denominations could be persecuted by the state, but it has also made members of other religions safe from discrimination. So the Constitution prohibits the government from making one church into the official Church of America.
It is true that activist judges in the Supreme Court have often interpreted the First Amendment to mean that there can be no state-sponsored religious speech of any kind, and invented convoluted criteria to ‘interpret’ the simple language of the amendment itself. This would have been news to the Constitution’s framers, as shown by the Federalist Papers where they explained it, as well as the founders of America’s public schools (see Evolution in American education and the demise of its public school system). But then, these are the judges who claim that a ‘right to privacy’ can be found in an ‘emanation’ upon a ‘penumbra’ supposedly in the Constitution, and thus the horrific ‘right’ of a mother to have her partly-born baby’s brains sucked out.
It also doesn’t help that so many people erroneously think that the phrase ‘separation of church and state’ is in the Constitution. However, in one case, ACLU vs Mercer County (KY, 2005), circuit judge Richard Suhrheinrich demolished this myth (with fellow circuit judge Alice Batchelder concurring), denouncing it as one of the ‘fundamental flaws’ in the ACLU case:
[T]he ACLU makes repeated reference to the ‘separation of church and state’. This extra-constitutional construct grows tiresome. The First Amendment does not demand a wall of separation between church and state … our Nation’s history is replete with governmental acknowledgment and in some cases, accommodation of religion. … (‘There is an unbroken history of official acknowledgment by all three branches of government of the role of religion in American life from at least 1789.’) After all, ‘[w]e are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.’ … Thus, state recognition of religion that falls short of endorsement is constitutionally permissible. [Cited court cases omitted] …
In fact, the phrase ‘separation of church and state’ is taken from a letter from Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) to the Danbury Baptists in 1802, 15 years after the Constitution was ratified. And Jefferson’s meaning in context was diametrically opposed to the way the ACLU take it. That is, the Baptists of the day used a metaphor of the church as a ‘garden’, compared to the ‘wilderness’ of the outside world, with a ‘wall’ or hedge separating them. This came from Baptist Roger Williams (1603–1684), founder of Rhode Island, in a sermon called The Garden in the Wilderness (1644), where he said :
When they have opened a gap in the hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the Church and the wilderness of the world, God hath ever broke down the wall itself, removed the candlestick, and made his garden a wilderness, as at this day. And that there fore if He will e’er please to restore His garden and paradise again, it must of necessity be walled in peculiarly unto Himself from the world.3
Here the meaning is very clear: if this protective hedge or wall were broken down, then the wilderness would encroach into the garden and destroy it. So the whole point of the wall was to prevent the government from encroaching on the church, not to expunge the church from society.
Forgetting the ‘free exercise’ clause
However, the unconstitutional act in Brittany’s case was performed by the school. That is, by cutting off her microphone merely for religious speech, the school was prohibiting her free exercise of religion, also protected by the same Amendment!
According to the court Yeo v. Lexington a student is never considered an agent of the school when the student’s actions are not directed by the school, even when participating in a school sponsored event. Indeed, The Secretary of Education has stated:
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, however, that expression is not attributable to the school and therefore may not be restricted because of its religious (or anti-religious) content. [emphasis added]
In any case, Brittany claims that she was not preaching or proselytizing but merely stating her thoughts and beliefs upon graduation, as she was invited to do. But even if McComb had been giving a ‘fire and brimstone’ sermon from the podium, she could not have violated the establishment clause, because she was not an agent of a state-sponsored organization when she made those remarks.
It is ironic that by cutting off Brittany’s microphone, they perfectly positioned themselves for her to sue them, on the grounds of infringing on her First Amendment right to ‘free exercise’ of religion. The Rutherford Institute, which takes on cases of government infringement of religion, will be representing McComb in her lawsuit against the high school (see their full case (PDF)). Its president and founder, John Whitehead, said:
‘This is yet another example of a politically correct culture silencing Christians in order to not offend those of other beliefs. 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.’
Meanwhile, Christian parents should be alerted to the expunging of the Christian religion in government schools. However, Proverbs 1:7 says ‘The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,’ and Proverbs 9:10 says, ‘The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.’ They should also realize that schools have not removed ‘religion’ from schools but replaced the Christian religion with atheism (the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, ‘Atheism is [a Wisconsin prison inmate’s] religion …’), and sometimes Islam as noted above.
Thus far from separating church and state, it is worth considering separating school and state. Long ago, Martin Luther (1483–1546), the Father of the Reformation, advised:
I would advise no one to send his child where the Holy Scriptures are not supreme. Every institution that does not unceasingly pursue the study of God’s Word becomes corrupt. Because of this we can see what kind of people they become in the universities and what they are like now.4
References and notes
- American for top student; the British Commonwealth equivalent is ‘dux’. The derivation of ‘valedictorian’ is ‘one who makes a farewell address’. Return to text.
- GPA = Grade Point Average. Normally they range from 1–4; a perfect score is 4.0, but sometimes students can take AP (Advanced Placement ) classes to score above 4.0. Return to text.
- Roger Williams, ‘Mr Cotton’s Letter Lately Printed, Examined and Answered’, in The Complete Writings of Roger Williams 1: 392, Providence Press, RI, 1866. Return to text.
- James Atkinson, ed., Luther’s Works, Vol. 44, The Christian in Society, Philadelphia, PA, Fortress Press, p. 207, 1966, ‘To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Concerning the Reform of the Christian Estate,’ by Martin Luther, 1520. Return to text.