Moriah Bridges was a graduation high school senior who was required by school administrators to edit her graduation speech and omit any religious remarks. Moriah recently retained the help of First Liberty Institute (FLI) to ensure that her rights to religious expression were protected and not violated. FLI issued a letter to the school, today, June 13, 2017 to intermediate between the two parties and reach an agreement regarding the editing of the speech and the laws pertinent to the exclusion of religious speech.
06/19/2017 United States (First Liberty Institute) – “Moriah Bridges was a graduating senior at Beaver High School in Beaver, Pennsylvania. She was asked by the 2017 senior class president to give remarks at the graduation ceremony’s “closing exercise.”
Moriah is a Christian who wrote her remarks in a way that would both express her best wishes for her classmates and, as First Liberty’s letter on her behalf stated, draw upon “the faith that is central to her identity as a Christian.” …
Moriah submitted her remarks to school officials for review prior to the graduation ceremony. The next day, she received an email from the principal conveying a message from the superintendent of Beaver Area School District, who mischaracterized the nature of Moriah’s remarks as school-sponsored, student initiated prayer in violation of the First Amendment.
The superintendent said that her submitted remarks were “not permissible by federal law,” even if those remarks were private, student speech.
The superintendent’s message stated:
The ceremony contains two instances of invocation/prayer/benediction; this is not permissible by federal law, as prayer (even student-initiated prayer) has been held to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court as a violation of the Establishment Clause.
The selected students may still address their class and indicate the things that they wish/hope for their class, but they may not do it in the style of a prayer and most certainly may not recite a prayer that excludes other religions (by ending “in the name of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ” or “in the matchless name of Jesus”).
“I was shocked that the school said my personal remarks broke the law and saddened that I could not draw upon my Christian identity to express my best wishes for my classmates on what should’ve been the happiest day of high school,” said Moriah.
Moriah was forced to choose between removing religious content from her remarks or giving up her speaking slot at the graduation ceremony. While her words had been crafted to express her best wishes for her classmates, she no longer had the freedom to mention anything religious.”