One Pennsylvania high school graduate defied the orders of her school’s administration after being told to scrub any reference to God from commencement speech earlier this month.
Faithwire News reports:
According to the First Liberty Institute, the conservative law firm who represented Moriah Bridges, the Superintendent Dr. Carrie Rowe ordered the student to remove all religious references from her commencement speech.
In the letter First Liberty sent to the Beaver Area School District in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, was pointed out that Rowe violated the Bridges’s constitutional rights by restricting her speech, which he delivered on June 2.
Bridges started the speech in a form of a prayer in which she would have referred to God as her “Heavenly Father” and “Lord”, but later she changed her speech a little bit after receiving an order from Rowe.
At the beginning of her speech, the Christian student told attendees she was not allowed to pray from commencement stage. Bridges then delivered a speech much the same as her original, but she scrubbed the references to her“Lord” and “Heavenly Father,” according to a video of the speech provided by First Liberty.
“I’ve always been a rule follower,” said Bridges, the senior class president. “When they said not to chew gum, I didn’t chew gum. When they said not to use your cellphone, I didn’t use my cellphone. But today, in the spirit of defying expectations, and for perhaps the last time at this podium, I say in the righteous name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”
As Faithwire reports, Bridges stated she was “astonished“due to the school’s attempt to block her from expressing her “Christian identity” during the graduation ceremony.
“I hope the school district will realize their mistake and make sure future students never have to go through this again,” she said.
Jeremy Dys, deputy general counsel at First Liberty, also slammed the Beaver County School District, claiming the administration’s actions “fail the test of the First Amendment.”
“School districts need to remember that students retain their religious liberty as they walk through the schoolhouse gates and all the way through the graduation ceremony,” Dys said.
For her part, Rowe released a statement Tuesday, describing Bridges as “a good student and gifted athlete” and “a natural choice to express gratitude on behalf of her fellow students to those who have shaped their lives to this point.”
However, the superintendent said Bridges knew that school administrators would have to approved her speech in advance.
“In Moriah’s case,” Rowe said, “the district could not approve a speech written as a prayer, but did approve a second version that she submitted. As superintendent, I took an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and of this Commonwealth.”
Rowe went on to say she received legal advice from the district’s solicitor, who told her that no remarks — even if delivered by a student — can include religious references.
“Although I can understand why this restriction might upset members of the community,” she said, “I cannot choose which laws to follow.”
However, First Liberty, is asking the school district to confess lawbreaking and is calling for a meeting with administrators to discuss how religious liberty can be protected in the future. It remains to be seen whether this meeting will be held.