School officials warned not to censor student's valedictory speech

 April 27, 2024

This story was originally published by the WND News Center.

School officials in a Florida district have been warned not to force a student to censor religious references from his scheduled valedictory speech.

Legal experts with the Rutherford Institute have written of officials at Collegiate Academy at Armwood High School in Hillsborough County, Florida, because of their orders to student Lucas Hudson, the class valedictorian.

"If America’s schools are to impart principles of freedom and democracy to future generations, they must start by respecting the constitutional rights of their students," said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. "While the government may not establish or compel a particular religion, it also may not silence and suppress religious speech merely because others might take offense. People are free to ignore, disagree with, or counter the religious speech of others, but the government cannot censor private religious speech."

Hudson had been ordered to remove references to his faith from his proposed graduation speech.

He wants to thank people who helped shape his character and reflect on how quickly time goes by.

And he wanted to urge listeners to "use whatever time they have to love others and serve the God who loves us," the legal team said.

But school officials handed him an ultimatum: Censor it or he would be banned from speaking.

That, however, would violate the Constitution's protections from speech and religion as well as Florida law, the legal team said.

Lucas first modified the speech, but it still wasn't enough censorship for the school.

"In coming to Lucas’ defense, The Rutherford Institute sent a letter to school officials, explaining that in addition to the protections under the First Amendment, the 'Florida Student and School Personnel Religious Liberties Act' provides that student speakers at graduation ceremonies be given a limited public forum which does not discriminate against the speaker’s voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint," the institute explained.

The letter to the district gives officials until the end of business on April 30 to retract their demands of Lucas.

"It is imperative that school officials allow Lucas to speak freely about his religious beliefs in his valedictorian speech at graduation," the institute said.

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