Saturday, June 18, 2011

Victorious Valedictorians

In the month of June we are subjected to graduation ceremonies and the inevitable controversies that crop up regarding the role of religion and prayer therein. Years back, the controversy was more limited to whether a prayer, invocation or benediction by anyone in authority would breach the sacrosanct “wall of separation” between Church and State. During hundreds of thousands of graduations during the first couple centuries of the republic, the thought didn’t even cross anybody’s mind that this would be a problem, but courts in their infinite wisdom have nonetheless placed official prayers off limits.

That was the case for official prayers, with the implication that officially sanctioned prayers constitute an establishment of religion. The next step down the slippery slope is prohibiting anyone from praying or invoking their religion, lest anyone be offended. So now the class valedictorian, who has earned the right to make a graduation speech, is not even allowed to pray or to mention the role that religion has played in his or her life, or so it seems.

When Angela Hilldenbrand of Medina Valley High School in Texas planned to include a prayer within her valedictorian speech, the parents of an “agnostic” brought suit, and initially prevailed. U.S. District Judge Fred Biery had granted an emergency court order banning public prayer at the ceremony, stating that the plaintiffs would suffer “irreparable harm” if the school district did not stop Hilldenbrand from uttering a prayer during her valedictory speech. PUH-LEAZE!

At least in this case, the school district was sympathetic to her. With the help of the Liberty Institute, she appealed the decision and prevailed. Another case involving a Vermont valedictorian took a somewhat different turn. After Kyle Gearwar, the valedictorian at Fair Haven Union High School, submitted his speech to the school principal, he was summoned to the office and told that parts of it were “going to be a problem”. Why? Because the speech included his personal testimony, thanking Jesus for His intervention in his life and bringing him to where he is today. Some of the allegedly offensive remarks included the following:

I have peace and can finally enjoy every moment God has given me, good or bad. I wouldn't be standing before you without the blessings God has given me through my tough situations. He is the reason I am the man I am today, made new through Jesus death on the cross.

Gearwar didn’t take the school to court, but respectfully submitted to their restrictions. He gave his speech sans the details of his Christian testimony, but, like Hildenbrand in Texas, he gave them all a wonderful lesson in civics by including the following verbiage:

My original speech has been cut, redone, and eventually trashed because of my references to the Bible, Jesus, and a better life. Today my letter to you was revised by some lawyers and attorneys who crossed out the concluding half of my speech. They said that the school can not endorse or allow me to speak about religion and how it has changed my life. I have dealt with the minor changes to my story that they have proposed, but in the end I could not throw it out. It saddens me that it had to come to this and I do not wish to read it on these circumstances because I know that Mr. Blanchard, Mr. Doucette and the school are at the mercy of the law if I follow through on this. It saddens me even more that the founding fathers created the first amendment, but today Congress has changed it to exclude those that they do not want to speak and defiled the principles on which this country was built…

Actually, it was not Congress but rather the courts that have turned the first amendment upside down.  Nevertheless, kudos to Kyle and Angela both! I am inspired by the courage of both of these young graduates. While still being respectful and submissive to the authorities who were trying to muzzle them, they courageously stood their ground and were faithful to their Savior.

1 comment:

JD Curtis said...

All I can do is puzzle over a tortured definition of the first amendment. especiakky in light o the following facts...

"It is no exaggeration to say that on Sundays in Washington during the administrations of Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) and of James Madison (1809-1817) the state became the church. Within a year of his inauguration, Jefferson began attending church services in the House of Representatives. Madison followed Jefferson's example, although unlike Jefferson, who rode on horseback to church in the Capitol, Madison came in a coach and four. Worship services in the House--a practice that continued until after the Civil War--were acceptable to Jefferson because they were nondiscriminatory and voluntary. Preachers of every Protestant denomination appeared. (Catholic priests began officiating in 1826.) As early as January 1806 a female evangelist, Dorothy Ripley, delivered a camp meeting-style exhortation in the House to Jefferson, Vice President Aaron Burr, and a "crowded audience." Throughout his administration Jefferson permitted church services in executive branch buildings. The Gospel was also preached in the Supreme Court chambers." Link