NEVADA — A student had her microphone cut off during a speech to her graduating class last week after administrators say she began proselytizing.
Brittany McComb, one of three valedictorians at Foothill High School in Henderson, was delivering a speech she titled “Filling that Void” at the school’s graduation ceremony when school officials say she deviated from the pre-approved draft.
“In accordance with our school district procedures, students invited to speak are required to submit their speeches for prior approval,” said Pat Nelson, aspokeswoman for Clark County School District. “Divergence from the speech will result in [the microphone] being cut off and that’s exactly what happened.”McComb could not be reached for comment. But she told theLas Vegas Review-Journal that she felt the district violated her FirstAmendment right to free speech.
“People aren’t stupid and they know we have freedom of speech and the district wasn’t advocating my ideas,” McComb told the Review-Journal. “Those are my opinions. It’s what I believe.”
The speech, as submitted to the district, included numerous references to God and directly quoted scripture on two occasions.
“And I can guarantee 100 percent, no doubt in my mind, that if you choose to fill yourself with God’s love rather than the things society tells us will satisfy us, you will find success, you will find your self worth,” McComb wrote in a segment of her submitted speech that was deemed to be proselytizing.
Bill Hoffman, the district’s general counsel, said he personally reviewed McComb’s submitted speech. He said the district did not take issue with references to God, and in fact allowed references that described the significance of God toMcComb’s life.
The problem, Hoffman said, was when McComb began quoting verses from the Bible and going into specifics about her Christian faith.
“It only became a problem when that language was proselytizing, quoting passages and being more aggressive in an apparent attempt to convert others to her religion,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman said the district is required to restrict student speech that may violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
“The district uses taxpayer money to produce the graduation ceremony,” Hoffman said. “It invites the diverse public to attend the ceremony and when it does so it assumes a responsibility to ensure that the religious views of studentspeakers are not imposed on the audience.”
He cited the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ 2003 ruling inLassonde v. Pleasanton Unified School District, a case similar to McComb’s situation, where segments of a California student’s graduation speech were considered proselytizing and censored. In Lassonde, the court ruled that, since student are coerced to attend graduation ceremonies, the audience at such events is captive. Thus, allowing preaching in graduation speeches violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment by forcing even dissenting members of the audience to be at the receiving end of the proselytization.
“There is no room … for a public school to disclaim sectarian, proselytizing religious speech at a graduation ceremony,” the decision concluded.
After McComb’s microphone was turned off, the crowd reportedly booed in protest. McComb told Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, on his radio program that she was not surprised with the school’s decision, but had hoped they would let her finish her speech.
“I was hoping they were going to turn it back on,” she told Sekulow. “… But God had bigger plans.”