Sunday, July 16, 2006

Student sues Nevada school for silencing God reference

The story below is a follow-up to an early post .
This story appeared in the Chicago Tribune first published by the Associated Press.

Student sues Nevada school for silencing God reference

By Ryan Nakashima
Associated Press
Published July 15, 2006

LAS VEGAS -- A high school valedictorian whose microphone was cut off as she gave an address referring to Jesus Christ has filed a lawsuit against school officials, claiming her rights to religious freedom and free speech were trampled.

Brittany McComb, 18, said she was giving her June 15 commencement address to some 400 graduates of Foothill High School and their family members when the mike was unplugged.

"God's love is so great that he gave his only son up," she said before the microphone went dead. She continued without amplification, " an excruciating death on a cross so his blood would cover all our shortcomings and provide for us a way to heaven in accepting this grace."

McComb's lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court of Nevada, names the principal, assistant principal and the employee of the school in Henderson who allegedly pulled the plug.

McComb said she was warned that her speech would be cut off if she did not follow an approved script that deleted references to Christ and invitations for others to join the faith. But she memorized the deleted parts and said them anyway.

"In my heart I couldn't say the edited version because it wasn't what I wanted to say," she told The Associated Press. "I wanted to say why I was successful . . . . It involved Jesus Christ for me, period."

The lawsuit asks the court to declare that school officials deprived McComb of her rights under the 1st and 14th Amendments, according to The Rutherford Institute, a conservative legal group that is backing the lawsuit.

Clark County School District spokesman Dave Sheehan said district lawyers had not seen the lawsuit and were unable to comment on it.

School district lawyer Bill Hoffman said previously that the school was following 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rulings that have obligated districts to censor student speeches for proselytizing.

Allen Lichtenstein, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, said the school appropriately followed the appeals court's decisions.

"Proselytizing is improper in school-sponsored speech at valedictorian graduations," he said.

John Whitehead, president of the Charlottesville, Va.-based Rutherford Institute, said this case differed from others involving the vetting of valedictorian speeches because the microphone plug was pulled as McComb veered into unapproved text. Students in other cases had accepted editing of religious content, he said.

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