CENSORSHIP! High School Salutatorian Brooks Hamby

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from Liberty Institute,

When school officials at Brawley Union School District in Brawley, California told the 18-year-old Christian student that he could not reference God in his graduation speech, they rejected three versions of his speech—one in which one administrator even redacted (edited out) with black “censor bars” across all religious references.

On Monday of last week, Brooks was notified that he was the salutatorian and given until Wednesday to turn in the first draft of his speech, which Brooks had written as a prayer, including the sentence: “Heavenly Father, in all times, let us always be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven us.” After school officials rejected that version, he then rewrote it and submitted a second draft which mentioned the censorship of his original speech. The school district also rejected the second version of his speech.

In a warning letter from school officials, Brooks was told that:

The first and second draft speeches proposed oppose government case law and are a violation of the Constitution. . . The district is advising you that reference to religious content is inappropriate and that the two drafts provided will not be allowed.

On Thursday morning, the day of the graduation ceremony, Brooks and his parents were called to see the principal and were notified by the school district that if Brooks “interjects religious content, the sound will be cut off, and a disclaimer to the entire audience must be made explaining the district’s position.” After receiving this information, Brooks rewrote a third version of his speech, which he sent to the superintendent. He received that version back with all religious references crossed out in black.

Brooks did not want to cause trouble, but neither could he compromise his faith and his convictions. He wrote a fourth version of his speech and prepared to deliver it at his graduation a few hours later that night.

In his address a week ago this Thursday, Brooks referenced the previous three versions of his speech and exercised his fundamental right of religious liberty by including references to the Bible and his Christian faith.

“In coming before you today, I presented three drafts of my speech,” Brooks said at his graduation. “All of them denied on the account of my desire to share my personal thoughts and inspiration to you of my Christian faith. . . . No man or woman has ever truly succeeded or been fulfilled on the account of living for others and not standing on what they knew in their heart was right or good.”

Amazingly, the school did not silence Brooks’ microphone but allowed him to finish his speech, though according to Hiram Sasser, Liberty Institute’s Director of Litigation, even the first version of Brooks’ speech was legal.

“It is outrageous that a government school official would demand that a salutatorian submit his speech for government review for the purpose of censoring religious speech. Even in the Ninth Circuit, no government official may censor simple references to God that served as personal acknowledgment by Brooks of something greater than himself.”

In addition, Dys says:

“School officials are becoming more and more hostile toward the expression of faith by students. Students and parents should never accept the legal advice of school attorneys in these kinds of situations.

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