Calif. School District Tells Student It Has an 'Obligation' to Censor God in Graduation Speech

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By Katherine Weber , Christian Post Reporter
July 15, 2014|8:12 am
  • Brook Hamby
    A screenshot of California student Brook Hamby delivering his graduation speech.

A California school district has refused to apologize to one of its students for previously banning him from mentioning God in his graduation speech, saying instead that it has an "obligation" to prevent "prayers and other sectarian, proselytizing content" from being a part of the speech.

Brooks Hamby, the salutatorian of Brawley Union High School in Brawley, California, made national headlines back in June when he ignored his school's attempts at censoring God from his graduation speech, instead giving an inspirational, Christian-oriented speech on the importance of standing up for one's beliefs.

Now, one month after the controversial speech went viral online, lawyers for the Brawley Union High School District say they will not apologize to Hamby for censoring religious references from his graduation speech, instead saying that the school has an "obligation" to remain secular during school functions.

"It is well established in the Ninth Circuit and California that a public school salutatorian has no constitutional right to lead a prayer or include sectarian or proselytizing content in his/her graduation speech," a ten-page letter from the San Diego-based law firm Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud and Romo reads, as reported by Fox News.

"The district was legally obligated to ensure prayers and other sectarian, proseltyzing content were omitted from Mr. Hamby's speech," the letter, addressed to the Liberty Institute, continues. "Censorship of the speech was necessary to avoid an Establishment Clause violation."

Hamby is being represented by the Liberty Institute, a legal group that is requesting the California school district issue an apology to the salutatorian and change its policy to ensure future graduating students will not face the same type of religious censorship.

Jeremy Dys, senior counsel at the Liberty Institute, told Breitbart News that his legal group was surprised by the school district's aggressive move to retain an outside law firm for its defense against Hamby and his lawyers' demand letter.

"I can't believe they've signed what appears to be at least a three-year contract," Dys told the media outlet, referring to the school's law firm. "It seems they're settling in for the long haul. They probably either see deep pockets in this school, or they're expecting a big payday at the end of all this."

Dys also spoke strongly of Hamby, who recently turned 18 and is slated to start college at Stanford University in the fall. "This is a really good kid," the lawyer said. "This young man has a very bright future; I think he's going to do great things down the road."

According to The Desert Review, Liberty Institute is still considering whether it will proceed with litigation against the school district. Hamby told the local media outlet that he was "shocked and surprised" by the district's 10-page letter, and that he sees the entire situation as a good learning experience.

"It's been a good learning experience for me," the student told The Desert Review. "Hopefully, it will inspire someone else to realize that it's OK to stand up for their religious freedoms and speak openly about their faith and not fear a school district, a school, or a school administrator. The message the school wants to give is that it is illegal. I find that unfortunate."

In the speech he delivered at his graduation in mid-June, Hamby encouraged his fellow classmates to stand up for what they believe to be right.

"In life, you will be told, 'No,'" Hamby said when he delivered the fourth draft of his graduation speech to his fellow classmates. The other three drafts had been rejected by school officials.

"In life, you will be asked to do things that you have no desire to do. In life, you will be asked to do things that violate your conscience and your desire to do what is right," Hamby continued. "Be the salt of the earth. Be strong and stand for your convictions and stand for what is right, what is ethical, what is moral and what is Godly, no matter what is the cost to you. Stand for what is good wherever you go and whatever you do."

 

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