Such as in this case (from JewsOnFirst.org, via Focus on the Family's CitizenLink.org):
A top high school graduate in Colorado who shared her faith in her valedictory was escorted from the ceremony by school staff and told she couldn't take her diploma home until she explained her actions to the principal and the parents of other graduates.
Erica Corder was among 14 Colorado Springs students who addressed their graduating class last month.
Here is the entire speech that caused all the trouble:"Throughout these lessons our teachers, parents, and let's not forget our peers have supported and encouraged us along the way. Thank you all for the past four amazing years. Because of your love and devotion to our success, we have all learned how to endure change and remain strong individuals. We are all capable of standing firm and expressing our own beliefs, which is why I need to tell you about someone who loves you more than you could ever imagine. He died for you on a cross over 2,000 years ago, yet was resurrected and is living today in Heaven. His name is Jesus Christ. If you don't already know Him personally, I encourage you to find out more about the sacrifice He made for you, so that you now have the opportunity to live in eternity with Him. And we also encourage you, now that we are all ready to encounter the biggest change in our lives thus far, the transition from childhood to adulthood, to leave (our school) with confidence and integrity. Congratulations class of 2006."
As much as it causes me deep metaphysical pain to be in the position of agreeing with Focus on the Family, Agape Press and so on, I'm afraid that's exactly what's being required of me. I absolutely believe the school is in the wrong on this issue and I imagine they will face some legal or civil repercussions for it.
I've done quite a bit of reading on the legal framework around expressions of religion in public schools. ReligiousTolerance.org is a great resource for explaining the issue in detail and giving the relevant case law. The consensus seems to be, in my inexpert opinion, that the question of students evangelizing to other students in speaker-to-audience situations is rather gray. The question would need to be answered as to whether the students in the audience had their rights violated by the speaker, in light of the fact that Corder is not a school official. The students in the audience also had the option and ability to leave the room if they found her words offensive; none chose to do so. As I see the facts of the event, I cannot see what principle the school has to stand upon. Corder has the Constitutionally-protected right to speak about her beliefs anywhere she likes and to anyone who cares to listen. That she was giving a commencement speech at a public school graduation does not seem to me to be cause to abrogate that right. I think the school erred.
That's not to say that I don't sympathize with the school district. Much debate has occurred in our country over the past 30 years as to just what is acceptable speech in a public school setting when religion is concerned. Schools often have to be very careful to not cross the line between allowing religious freedom and promoting religious dogma. It can be a very thin line. However, that line is much clearer where students, and not school officials, are concerned. Essentially, a public school student can pray, evangelize, pass out literature, give speeches, display symbols and generally promote their faith in any way they choose, so long as they don't cross the line into harassment. In this sense, I think what Corder did was protected free speech. However, I am sympathetic to the school's side, and I would hope that perhaps Corder and her family might be willing to accept an apology in lieu of a civil settlement. It would really be the Christian thing to do, though I won't hold my breath...
I do have to say that, as a secular humanist, I find Corder's speech somewhat crass as a graduation commencement. Had she talked about her faith in God and love of Christ as something personal to her, then I think it could have been a very moving speech. That she chose instead to evangelize how her beliefs ought to be the beliefs of everyone listening was crudely disrespectful of the other students. Perhaps their were Jews or Muslims or Hindus or Freethinkers in the graduating class that don't share Corder's particular faith, or any faith, and felt marginalized by her preaching. Perhaps not. Either way, though, I still believe Corder's right to give her speech in the way she gave it is protected by the First Amendment, even if I find the speech itself very lacking in taste.
I have to express a great deal of disappointment with the school officials, even as I sympathize with the difficulty of their responsibilities. There's a reason this story is plastered all over Focus on the Family, Agape Press and Fox "News"; these stories are the bread-and-butter of the neurotic Christian victimhood cult. Fox alone spent 15 minutes on an interview with Corder, complete with a sympathetic, cheering audience to gasp in the horror of their worst fears confirmed: "My God, the liberals really are trying to take our religion away!" These kinds of misteps allow unscrupulous religious and political leaders (pretty much the entire Religious Right and Republican Party, actually) to amp up their favorite motivational weapon: fear. This Colorado Springs high school made itself a convenient bogeyman, to the detriment of both Corder and secularists nationwide.
As a final note, I have to take issue with Liberty Counsel's Matt Staver, for making two truly boneheaded arguments in Corder's favor:
In fact, he [Staver] said, she [Corder] was completely within her constitutional rights to say whatever she wanted.
"She has a greater right to be able to speak because she's a valedictorian than even being elected by fellow students," he said. "Because she's there by virtue of her academic standing."
This guy's both general counsel and president of Liberty Counsel, and, in a just world, his ignorance would scare off any potential clients for about the next ten years. First of all, Corder certainly was not "within her constitutional rights to say whatever she wanted". I wonder if Mr. Staver would be making that claim if Corder had unleashed a Neo-Nazi diatribe against Jews or a Biblical call to stone all homosexuals. Somehow I don't think quite as many of her Christian peers would openly jump to her defense, Westboro Baptist Church notwithstanding.
Second, since when does the Bill of Rights grant greater freedom to those with good grades? I'm pretty sure Corder's right to speak as valedictorian is exactly equal to the hardest-struggling D-student's right to do the same. It's an interesting view into the conservative mind, is this comment by Staver. His notion seems to be that merit, however determined, grants greater rights in our country than democracy. Not too far of a stretch from voting rights being for white landowners only, or from a President appointed by the Supreme Court being considered legitimate.