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The right to speak one's faith

High SchoolsSchoolsJustice System

As another graduation season is upon us, I can't help but think about certain graduates from past years.

Brittany McComb, Class of '06, Foothill High School (Henderson, Nev.), Renee Griffith, Class of '08, Butte High School (Butte, Mont.) and Kyle Gearwar, Class of '11, Fair Haven Union High School (Fair Haven, Vt.) — all had their valedictory addresses censored because of religious content. The reason given was their speeches violated the First Amendment.

The First Amendment is the one that guarantees the rights of religion and speech. Not one or the other — both. To censor a speech on the basis of religious content while citing the First Amendment is a despicable thing for anyone to do to anyone. For a school to do this to its top student is unconscionable.

The First Amendment is there for a reason. The Constitution that Congress presented to the states was not good enough — it needed to be improved. The First Amendment is first because It was the first improvement Congress had to make in order for the constitution to become acceptable to the people. The message was clear: No free religion, no free speech, no deal.

Centuries later, at the hands of certain lawyers, lobbyists and judges, the First Amendment is being used for the exact opposite of its intended purpose. Make no mistake, a private citizen can never be in violation of the First Amendment. The law is not aimed at us, it is aimed at Congress. It exists to tell the government that it cannot violate our right to worship as we please or to speak our own minds. The backward argument used in these high school graduations is that, as students of public schools, these kids were not private citizens, but part of the government. Further, the First Amendment has been interpreted to mean protection from religion and speech.

So a student, who becomes the government by attending a school he is required to attend, is considered to be making an unconstitutional law if he speaks about his faith before an audience of citizens, who are at a ceremony they are not required to attend, because someone in that audience might not want to hear it.

I hope that students will continue to stand up for their rights, and I pray that the schools will not stand in their way.

Ed Hopkins, Odenton

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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