Fox & Friends Coverage of the Case
School Officials Censor God from Graduation Speech
Liberty Institute has been engaged to represent Brooks Hamby, a salutatorian whose graduation speech was censored by school officials three times. The story made national headlines on June 16, 2014 in a Fox News article by Todd Starnes. School officials at Brawley Union School District in Brawley, California told Brooks that he could not reference God in his graduation speech and turned back three versions of Brooks’ speech, one in which one administrator even crossed out in black all religious references.
On Monday, Brooks was notified that he was the salutatorian and given until Wednesday to turn in the first draft of his speech, which Brooks had written as a prayer, including the sentence: “Heavenly Father, in all times, let us always be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven us.” After school officials rejected that version, he then rewrote it and submitted a second draft which mentioned the censorship of his original speech. The school district also rejected the second version of his speech.
On Thursday morning, the day of the graduation ceremony, Brooks and his parents were called to see the principal and were notified by the school district that if Brooks “interjects religious content, the sound will be cut off, and a disclaimer to the entire audience must be made explaining the district’s position.” After receiving this information, Brooks rewrote a third version of his speech, which he sent to the superintendent. He received that version back with all religious references crossed out in black.
Brooks did not want to cause trouble, but neither could he compromise his faith and his convictions. Brooks sent the fourth version of his speech to school administrators, but did not receive a reply before it was time for him to deliver his address. In his address on Thursday, he referenced the previous three versions of his speech and included references to the Bible and his Christian faith. Amazingly, the schools did not silence his microphone but allowed him to finish his speech.
According to Hiram Sasser of Liberty Institute, even the first version of Brooks’ speech was legal. “It is outrageous that a government school official would demand that a salutatorian submit his speech for government review for the purpose of censoring religious speech,” Sasser said. “Even in the Ninth Circuit, no government official may censor simple references to God that served as personal acknowledgment by Brooks of something greater than himself.” Jeremy Dys, an attorney at Liberty Institute, appeared on Fox & Friends on Fox News on Tuesday morning, June 17, to discuss the case.
To find out more about students’ religious liberties, including their right to mention God in graduation speeches, read Liberty Institute’s Student Bill of Rights.
Jeremy Dys & Brooks Hamby Post Fox & Friends interview
Redacted speech - link
Demand Letter - Link
Press Release 06/19/14 - Link
Schools Response Letter - Link
Related Media Updates
Todd Starnes School: We have a right to ban God
School Claims Student Has No First Amendment Right Against Censorship