Religious freedom

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review the case of 2006 Foothill High School valedictorian Brittany McComb, whose microphone was turned off by school officials at her graduation ceremonies when she spoke about the part her Christian beliefs had played in her success.

Ms. McComb had submitted her speech to administrators for review, in keeping with district policy. The school's censors decided to excise certain religious references. Ms. McComb attempted to deliver the original version of her speech. The moment she began to speak the censored words, school officials turned off her microphone. She sued.

In June 2007, a federal court in Nevada rejected the school district's second attempt to have her case dismissed, ruling Ms. McComb's lawsuit raised substantial free speech claims. But school officials appealed and the case was dismissed.

Should public school students be accorded all the freedoms outlined in the Bill of Rights? No. They are not free to speak words not approved by the school district to the "captive audience" of an official school function, any more than a student has a free speech right to drone on, disrupting a classroom and making it impossible for the teacher to work.

The problem is with the prohibitions against Congress found in the First Amendment, which states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

When the government censors take out their editors' pencils and start dictating that a certain number of references to God are OK, but no more -- and certainly no mention of Jesus -- they push perilously close to the Establishment Clause. Government should not be judging how much religiosity is OK, which religions are permissible and which aren't.

Those who attended the district's 2006 graduation ceremonies reported the flashing of gang signs by students onstage was common, and that no effort was made to restrict those free expressions. Should we thus conclude the district approves of -- even "proselytizes" -- gang membership?

We have come to the point where public policy is not freedom of religion, but freedom from religion. This is one good reason the best students -- if their families can afford it -- increasingly flee the public schools, where social pathologies are more and more the norm.