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ADF letter prompts Minn. school to allow Bible verse in graduation speech

Letter explained Constitution protects private religious speech
Published On: 10/18/2017

Attorney sound bites:  Jonathan Scruggs  |  Jeremy Tedesco

ST. PAUL, Minn. — A Minnesota high school will allow a student to include a Bible verse in her graduation speech after school officials received a letter from Alliance Defending Freedom that explained constitutional protections for religious speech. The school had originally told her she could not include a Bible verse at the end of her speech.

“In America, we don’t separate what people say from what they believe, and that includes students of faith who speak at a graduation ceremonies,” said ADF Legal Counsel Jonathan Scruggs. “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. The First Amendment protects religious expression just like other forms of speech; it does not require public school officials to censor all things religious.”

School officials at Minnesota Connections Academy told Genesis Feliciano, a senior, that she could not speak at the graduation ceremony unless she removed Jeremiah 29:11—“‘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’”—from the end of her speech.

A school official told Feliciano, “We can’t allow Bible verses to be quoted in graduation speeches”; however, as the ADF letter explained, “Minnesota Connections Academy’s requirement that Genesis remove a quotation from her graduation speech merely because it is religious violates the First Amendment. As the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has held, ‘students still…possess free speech rights’ at a graduation ceremony and ‘the government may not engage in viewpoint discrimination’ against religious speech.”

“The Constitution simply does not require schools to purge public ceremonies of all things that happen to be religious,” added ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “The First Amendment protects the private religious speech of students at school, including at graduation ceremonies. We hope other high schools will follow the lead of Minnesota Connections Academy, which did the right thing here by choosing to respect the constitutional freedoms of all students.”

  • Pronunciation guide: Tedesco (Tuh-DESS’-koh)
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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