Graduation 2019: A Time For Celebration, Not Censorship

May 17, 2019
Graduation Season | First Liberty

by Liberty McArtor • 4 min read

Graduation season is here!

All around the nation, high school and college students are preparing for their big day. After years of hard work, thousands will proudly walk across the stage and be recognized for their academic achievement. For many students, graduation is all the more special because they will have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to write and deliver speeches before classmates, parents, teachers and friends.

Being that graduation is one of the important moments for students and their families, it’s common for graduation speeches to include sentiments dear to both the audience, like shared class memories, and the speaker, like personal acknowledgments of their faith.

So as many of you, or your children or grandchildren, prepare to attend or to give a graduation speech, we want you to know what the law says about living and expressing your faith at graduation.

Above all, you must know that mentioning your faith in your graduation remarks is perfectly legal.

The U.S. Supreme Court declared in the landmark case, Tinker v. Des Moines (1969), that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

And federal law says that as long as students are responsible for writing their own speeches, their school cannot discriminate against them for including prayers or religious references.

But even though the law protects students’ free speech rights, many local officials and school administrators appear to not know, or blatantly ignore, the law.

Has your religious speech been censored on campus? Request our legal help immediately.

Time after time, we see students delivering graduation speeches whose First Amendment rights are infringed. Students are incorrectly told that references to faith were “not permissible,” or ordered to cut mentions of God or prayers in their speech the day before graduation

In other words, they’re forced to choose between omitting religious references or not speaking at all — only hours or minutes before their graduation ceremony starts. And in certain cases, they’ve even been threatened with jail for including a prayer in their speech!

For years, we’ve successfully defended students who were threatened or punished for living out their faith at graduation:

  • High school seniors Sam Blackeldge and Moriah Bridges were told to remove religious references from their graduation speeches. Our legal team ensured that their respective school districts clarified their policies to protect the religious liberty of students.
  • Our attorneys empowered high school valedictorian Josiah Bell with information that enabled him to successfully defend the religious references in his graduation speech.
  • Our legal team fought at the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of graduating senior Angela Hildenbrand, who’d been told by a district court judge that she could be jailed if she prayed at her graduation. The Fifth Circuit Court affirmed her religious freedom, and she was able to pray.

No Censorship Here, Live it Out!

Censorship is not part of America’s traditions or values, especially not in our nation’s educational institutions where freedom of thought and diverse expression should be encouraged – not suppressed.

Here at First Liberty Institute, we want to make sure that your graduation is a time of celebration, not censorship.

So if your right to express your faith comes under attack, or if you see it happening to your friends, your classmates or your children or grandchildren, make us your first call. Our legal team is first in the fight so that you and all students across America can live out their faith freely and openly.

Related story: How To Equip Your Kids to Stand Up for their Faith and Religious Liberty

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