Political correctness–a philosophy that discourages diversity of viewpoints–has become a guiding principle of modern society. If someone might be offended, freedom of speech is erased. Nowhere is this more evident than in the schools, especially when religion is involved. Things have gotten so ridiculous that the mere mention of God is enough to send public school officials into a tailspin. Just consider what happened to Renee Griffith on her graduation day.
By virtue of her scholastic achievements, Renee was one of ten valedictorians selected to deliver remarks at graduation about what they had learned during their time at Butte High School in Butte, Montana. The students prepared their own remarks, and some delivered them together, in an alternating fashion.
Renee paired up with another student, Ethan, to talk about the lessons they had learned in school, which ranged from the humorous and mundane to the heartfelt. For instance, Renee learned that “there is no pool on the fifth floor,” “Homecoming Week is a time when people can wear underwear on the outside of their pants and no one cares,” and “gym clothes are to be forgotten on Mondays and piled in lockers on Fridays.” Ethan learned that “fire alarms only go off on cold days,” “you don’t get in trouble for running through the halls; people just look at you funny,” and “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, but a little water can fix that.”
School officials who reviewed the remarks prior to graduation did not raise any objections to the students’ light-hearted remarks. And they certainly didn’t object to Ethan’s earnest observation that “it takes just one person to get a rock rolling down a hill, and likewise, it takes just one person to traverse this planet to gather change. The power for change is inherent in humanity and each individual. We all have the framework for greatness and impact. Thus, it is important that we all realize the foundation within all of us and step out to better and further the world.”
What they did object to, ironically enough, was Renee’s heartfelt statement about how she learned to stand up for her religious convictions. “I learned to persevere these past four years, even through failure or discouragement, when I had to stand for my convictions,” wrote Renee. “I didn’t let fear keep me from sharing Christ and His joy with those around me. I learned to impart hope, to encourage people to treat each day as a gift. I learned not to be known for my grades or for what I did during school, but for being committed to my faith and morals and being someone who lived with a purpose from God with a passionate love for Him.”
Little did Renee know when she wrote those words that her world would be turned upside down. Just prior to the graduation ceremony, Renee was given an ultimatum by school officials: either strip references to God from her speech and replace them with more neutral phrases or be forbidden to participate in the graduation program.
For example, instead of saying “I didn’t let fear keep me from sharing Christ and His joy with those around me,” school officials instructed Renee to say “I didn’t let fear keep me from sharing my faith with those around me.” And instead of “being someone who lived with a purpose from God with a passionate love for Him,” she was told to describe herself as “someone who lived with a purpose, a purpose derived from my faith and based on a love of mankind.”
Renee did not hesitate for a moment. She knew her rights and insisted on having her right to free speech respected. She wanted to use the words of her choice in order to talk about the lessons she had learned in school. After all, other students were permitted to use words of their choosing to share what they had learned. In fact, in such a sea of speeches, it’s doubtful that anyone would have noticed, let alone cared about, the inclusion of those two small words in her speech: “God” and “Christ.”
Unfortunately for Renee, school officials cared enough to totally ban her from participating in the graduation ceremony. This was simply political correctness rearing its ugly head once again. If there are two words that are politically incorrect, and thus taboo in the public schools today, they are “Jesus Christ.”
Instead of being honest, school officials disguised their political correctness by hiding behind the mantra of “separation of church and state.” Yet this was not a state-paid teacher or other state employee speaking–it was a student who had not only earned the right to address her classmates, she was invited to do so.
Moreover, the argument that the graduation ceremony was a school-sponsored event doesn’t hold much water. The majority of people at that ceremony were either adults or on the brink of adulthood. They would have no difficulty distinguishing between a student and someone speaking on behalf of the school. However, because Renee is a Christian, her speech was squelched, which has nothing to do with church-state doctrine and everything to do with censorship. Yet the beauty of the First Amendment is that it grants us the right to free speech, including free speech that references God. It also protects atheistic speech.
There’s an old axiom that what children learn in school today will be the philosophy of government tomorrow. The lesson being taught to our young people is that, for some of us, there is no such thing as free speech. However, as historian Roland Bainton reminds us, “All freedoms hang together. Civil liberties scarcely thrive when religious liberties are disregarded, and the reverse is equally true.”
In other words, if all freedoms hang together, then they will fall together, too. In fact, they will fall like dominoes.
John W. Whitehead is an attorney and author who has written, debated and practiced widely in the area of constitutional law and human rights. Whitehead’s concern for the persecuted and oppressed lead him, in 1982, to establish The Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties andn human rights organization whose international headquarters are located in Charlottesville, Virginia. Visit the website at www.rutherford.org.
Photo by Clever Cupcakes