LAS VEGAS — A high school valedictorian who had the plug pulled on her
microphone as she gave an address referring to Jesus Christ sued school
officials this week, saying her rights to religious freedom and free speech were
Brittany McComb, 18, was giving her June 15 commencement address to some 400
graduates of Foothill High School and their family members when a school worker
cut off the sound system.
“God’s love is so great that he gave his only son up,” she said, before the
microphone went dead. She then continued without amplification, “...to an
excruciating death on a cross so his blood would cover all our shortcomings and
provide for us a way to heaven in accepting this grace.”
released by the conservative legal group backing the suit, the Rutherford
Institute, shows McComb speaking soundlessly after her microphone was turned off
while some in the audience chanted “Let her speak!” and stood and applauded.
McComb’s suit, filed July 13 in the U.S. District Court of Nevada, names the
principal, assistant principal and the employee of the school in Henderson who
pulled the plug.
McComb said she was warned that her speech at the Orleans hotel-casino would
be cut off if she did not follow an approved script that deleted references to
Christ and invitations for others to join the faith. But she memorized the
deleted parts and said them anyway.
“In my heart I couldn’t say the edited version because it wasn’t what I
wanted to say,” she told the Associated Press. “I wanted to say why I was
successful, and what inspired me to keep going and what motivated me. It
involved Jesus Christ for me, period.”
Clark County School District spokesman Dave Sheehan said district lawyers had
not seen the lawsuit and were unable to comment on it.
School District lawyer Bill Hoffman has said previously that the school was
following rulings by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that have obligated
districts to censor student speeches for proselytizing.
Allen Lichtenstein, lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada,
said the school appropriately followed the appeals court’s decisions.
“Proselytizing is improper in school-sponsored speech at valedictorian
graduations,” he said, adding the ACLU had sued in the past to ensure
proselytizing was prevented at school-sponsored events.
John Whitehead, president of the Charlottesville, Va.-based Rutherford
Institute, called the incident disturbing.
“If you know history, go back and look at some of the regimes that pull
plugs, it starts with Nazi Germany all the way up through,” he said.
Whitehead noted this case differed from others involving the vetting of
valedictorian speeches because the microphone plug was pulled as McComb veered
into unapproved text. Students in other cases had accepted editing of religious
content, he said.
“What makes a great constitutional case? Great facts,” he said. “Just what
happened here is going to drive this case forward.”