School Censors Religious Words in Graduation Speech
Via Fox News: A high school valedictorian in Vermont was forbidden by school administers from delivering nearly half of his graduation speech in which he discussed how Jesus had changed his life. “I was just sharing a story about my life and how it was changed,” said Kyle Gearwar, the valedictorian at Fair Haven Union High School. “And as an American and as a valedictorian I felt that I should have been able to do that.”
“They told me my speech was going to be a problem – that the school wouldn’t allow me to deliver the speech and they would prevent me from giving the speech if it came down to it,” Gearwar told Fox News Radio. He said the principal told him to remove anything that “had to do with religion, God, talking about how He can help you. The thing that actually changed me, I couldn’t talk about.”
“You can burn a flag but we’re not able to speak about God,” he said. “I just don’t agree with that.”
Brett Blanchard, the principal at Fair Haven Union High School, defended the censorship and said public school must be careful about allowing some to talk about their religion at a school-sanctioned event. “We are absolutely strong supporters of free speech,” Blanchard told Fox News Radio. “The federal law limits the kind of religious speech that’s permitted at a commencement at a public high school.”
The issue was whether Gearwar’s speech was a personal testimony of how Jesus Christ changed his life – or if it was an act of proselytizing.
Among the many sentences that the school took offense to was this passage from Gearwar’s speech:
“I have peace and can finally enjoy every moment God has given me, good or bad. I wouldn’t be standing before you without the blessings God has given me through my tough situations. He is the reason I am the man I am today, made new through Jesus death on the cross.”
During the graduation ceremony, several audience members encouraged Gearwar to read the censored and redacted portions of his speech. The Christian teenager declined to do so, explaining that he had given his word to the principal and the assistant principal that he would abide by their decision.
“You’re supposed to respect your authority,” he said. “Even in the Bible it says you should respect the authorities of the land. I wasn’t going to disappoint these men.”
An editorial by the Burlington Free Press, chastised school administrators for “playing it safe.” “The school’s decision says much about how uncomfortable we all have become about discussing religion publicly,” the newspaper wrote. “We should be able to listen to others talk about their faith – those different from our own – without feeling threatened. Instead we live in a sad time when the risk of offending someone also carries the risk of being sued.”
I appreciate Gearwar’s respect for his authorities. I only wish he had been able to tell his story.