Each spring, students across the country will take to the graduation podium to celebrate achievements, reflect on memories, and for many, offer a personal thanks to the Lord for guiding them to this milestone. And without fail, each spring, school administrators will try to censor the private, religious speech of these students.
Michigan school officials told Elizabeth Turner—the school valedictorian—not to mention her relationship with Christ during a graduation speech, because the school needed “to be mindful about the inclusion of religious aspects.” Savannah Lefler, another Michigan student, was told that her speech was too “Christianized” to give at a graduation. A Pennsylvania school district instructed student Moriah Bridges to edit her graduation speech to remove any faith-based content.
In each of these cases, the students did the right thing. Instead of caving to school administrators using a mistaken interpretation of the Establishment Clause, the students sought legal advice. In each case, First Liberty Institute intervened and secured the speaker’s right to profess their faith while wearing a cap and gown.
But graduation censorship is merely a symptom of a broader problem in our public schools. Despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s comment that religion is an integral part of a public school education, too many school administrators would rather remove any and all mention of it within the schoolhouse gates.
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The examples are plentiful. Eighth-grader Hannah Allen was told that she and her classmates couldn’t pray for a fellow student while in the lunchroom. Sam Blackledge was forced to remove any mention of his faith from a speech just hours before he was to give it. A group of high-school cheerleaders were prevented from using Bible verses on encouraging gameday banners.
Now, a Utah school district is reviewing whether to remove the Holy Bible from its libraries. Prompted by a parent’s complaint, the Davis School District outside Salt Lake City may remove the Bible for being one of the “most sex-ridden books around” and lacking serious value for minors.
Cancel culture in public education now runs so deep that the holiest book in Christianity, originally written over thousands of years across multiple continents and in three different languages, which is now both the bestselling book of all time and the most shoplifted is being reviewed by a public school to determine whether it has value. And while the inspired and inerrant Word of God needs no man-made defense, it is worthwhile to point out that the Supreme Court believes that the Bible is certainly worthy of study and an education may be incomplete without doing so.
But just like graduation speeches, lunchtime prayers, or football game banners, these concerns about the age-appropriateness of the Bible are simply a battle in a proxy war. Educrats from departments of education, teachers’ unions, school boards, and school administrations realize that their student bodies are a captive audience of malleable minds and wish to teach children to view the world through their progressive lens. To do so, schools must eliminate religious devotion or expression encouraged by families, churches, or even the student’s own conscience.
But take heart, as we’re winning recent battles in this proxy war. Last summer, the Supreme Court ruled against the Bremerton School District for firing football Coach Joe Kennedy after he said a brief, quiet, personal prayer on the fifty-yard line. In its decision, the highest court in the land put to death the Lemon test: a bad doctrine used by governments for decades to stamp out any vestige of religion from public life. Now, in the Kennedy era, schools must allow graduation graces, lunchtime litanies, benediction banners, and of course, post-game prayers.
The key to winning the proxy war is simple: stand up for your faith in public schools. Yet, stories like Elizabeth’s, Savannah’s, Moriah’s, Hannah’s, Sam’s, and Coach Kennedy’s teach us that doing so requires bravery, courage of conviction, and in some cases, a legal team. The Davis School District has an important choice to make. First Liberty has sent a letter encouraging them to make the correct one.
So as graduation season approaches, remember that the law is clear: teachers and students do not shed their constitutional rights at the school house gate. Private religious expression is to be welcomed, not censored by school districts. First Liberty Institute encourages students to be bold mouthpieces for their faith – Americans across the country will be more free when they do.
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