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Sunday, February 6, 2011

Montana Allows God-Talk At School Graduation.

FYI - From Americans United for the Separation of Church and State,

-ADY "A Regular Guy On The Issues"

Montana Allows God-Talk At School Graduation

January 2011 AU Bulletin
A public school violated the First Amendment rights of a student when it forbade her from acknowledging God and Christ in her 2008 commencement remarks, the Montana Supreme Court has ruled. 
The court, in a 6-1 vote, held that a public school would not have violated church-state separation if it allowed student Renee Griffith to discuss her religious beliefs during a valedictorian address. By preventing her from going forward, the school infringed on the student’s free speech rights, the court said.
Griffith planned to mention her religious convictions in the speech by stating, “I didn’t let fear keep me from sharing Christ and His joy with those around me…. I learned not to be known for my grades or for what I did during school, but for being committed to my faith and morals and being someone who lived with a purpose from God with a passionate love for Him.”
Prior to the commencement ceremony, Griffith was asked by the school to remove the religious language.
Justice William Leaphart, in his dissent to the Griffith v. Butte School District No. 1 decision, argued that public school was right to consider the student’s remarks a church-state concern.
“Attendance at a high school graduation is compulsory,” he wrote. “The speakers chosen by the school clearly have a ‘captive’ audience. The student body of a public school is presumably very diverse with a mix of Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists, and agnostics, many of whom would resent being required to attend a ceremony in which Christ and His love was being shared with those present in the captive audience.”

1 comment:

Doug Indeap said...

When discussing separation of church and state, it is important to distinguish between "individual" and "government" speech about religion. The First Amendment's "free exercise" clause assures that each individual is free to exercise and express his or her religious views--publicly as well as privately. The Amendment constrains only the government not to promote or otherwise take steps toward establishment of religion. As government can only act through the individuals comprising its ranks, when those individuals are performing their official duties (e.g., public school teachers instructing students in class), they effectively are the government and thus should conduct themselves in accordance with the First Amendment's constraints on government. When acting in their individual capacities, they are free to exercise their religions as they please. If their right to free exercise of religion extended even to their discharge of their official responsibilities, however, the First Amendment constraints on government establishment of religion would be eviscerated. While figuring out whether someone is speaking for the government in any particular circumstance may sometimes be difficult, making the distinction is critical.

While I am not familiar with the details of this case, it sounds like the Montana Supreme Court properly considered the student's intended commencement remarks to be her own "individual" speech and not "government" speech by an agent of the government. It might be viewed differently if the school itself actively orchestrated or arranged religious remarks by students or anyone else at official events the school organized and required students to attend.