by Peter Smith
- BILLINGS, Montana, November 22, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The Montana Supreme Court has reversed a district judge’s ruling that school officials could censor a valedictorian’s speech that contained references to God and Jesus Christ.
The high court issued its decision Friday, saying Renee Griffith’s rights to free speech and freedom of religion under the state and federal constitutions had been violated by officials with the Butte High School and the school district.
Renee Griffith, one of the ten high school valedictorians in the class of 2008, had planned to say in her graduation address that she “didn’t let fear keep me from sharing Christ and his joy with those around me.” She also wanted to speak about “being someone who lived with a purpose from God with a passionate love for him.”
However, Principal John Metz, and the superintendent for Butte School District No. 1, Charles Uggetti, demanded Griffith replace the words “Christ and his joy” with “my faith,” and “from God with a passionate love for him” with the phrase “derived from my faith and based on a love of mankind.”
Since Griffiths would not make the suggested changes to her address, Metz and Uggetti did not allow her to speak at graduation.
Back in February, Yellowstone County District Judge Gregory Todd ruled in favor of the school district against Griffiths. The judge stated the “policies and practices of the District prohibiting religious speech during graduation ceremonies are applied evenly to all student speakers,” and the policy itself was “drafted with the specific intent of maintaining [school] District neutrality toward religion, as is required by the Establishment Clause.”
The Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
The state Supreme Court’s decision now nullifies Todd’s ruling.
Griffith’s attorney, William J. O’Connor II, told LifeSiteNews.com earlier this year that he would be taking her case to the high court because the district’s policy entails “viewpoint discrimination,” which is prohibited under U.S. Supreme Court precedent.
“You can’t say people can speak on their personal point of view except if their personal point of view involves religion,” he added.
Griffith originally filed a complaint with the Human Rights Bureau of the State of Montana in July of 2008. After the Bureau dismissed her complaint, Griffith filed a further complaint in the Montana Thirteenth Judicial District Court, Yellowstone County, in April of 2009, alleging that six state and federal rights were violated by Uggetti and Metz.