It’s the day all high school seniors dream about – graduation day. Filled with the joy of memories past, the sadness of goodbye, and the hope for the future, it’s truly a day every teenager remembers forever.
During the 2013-2014 school year, Genesis Feliciano was a senior at Minnesota Connections Academy. As graduation approached, the school invited any graduating senior who desired to give a short graduation speech to do so. Genesis bravely accepted the invitation and began working on her speech.
Genesis is a Christian and wanted to express to her fellow classmates that part of what helped her through tough times during high school was her faith, which also inspired great hope for her future. She desired to encourage her classmates that their future was also full of hope. To help illustrate this, she concluded her speech with a Bible verse: “For I know the plans I have for you," says the LORD. "They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11 NLT).
But, her speech was rejected.
School officials told Genesis, “We can’t allow Bible verses to be quoted in graduation speeches.” If she wanted to speak during graduation, she must omit the verse.
In a letter to school officials, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) explained that the inclusion of the Bible verse in Genesis’ speech was protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution: “Genesis' speech discusses topics that are commonly addressed at, and are wholly relevant to, graduation ceremonies: congratulating her classmates, giving personal thanks, and expressing hope for seniors' bright futures. The quotation from Jeremiah 29:11 simply expresses Genesis' religious perspective on seniors' future success. Censoring this religious reference violates her First Amendment rights.”
The letter ended by requesting that Genesis be permitted to include the verse in her speech.
And school officials did just that.
ADF Legal Counsel Jonathan Scruggs said, “We commend the school for doing the right thing and giving this student the same opportunity to express herself that other students are being given.”
In June 2014 Genesis Feliciano’s graduation day arrived. She confidently took the stage and shared her heart and faith with her class. Not only did Genesis give her classmates hope that day, but she also continues to be an example and gives hope to all young people who desire to share their faith at school.