Grad says testimony about God censored from speech

Thursday, June 16, 2011

FAIR HAVEN, Vt. — The valedictorian of a Vermont high school says school officials wouldn’t let him talk in his speech about how God had changed his life.

Fair Haven Union High School valedictorian Kyle Gearwar told the crowd at the June 10 graduation ceremony that he was only able to deliver half the speech he wanted to.

Fair Haven Union High School principal Brett Blanchard says Gearwar was allowed to mention God and Jesus in the accepted portion of his speech.

But Blanchard told the Burlington Free Press that public schools had to be careful about allowing someone to preach their religion at a school-sanctioned event.

“It is a fine line here,” the newspaper quoted Blanchard as saying. “Here’s freedom of speech and here’s separation of church and state. “The line is generally the difference between proselytizing and personalizing.”

Gearwar said school officials told him he was promoting religion.

First Amendment Center religious-liberty expert Charles C. Haynes said, “Under current law, students should be allowed to mention their faith in graduation speeches. But when school officials review a student’s speech ahead of time, they have the authority to limit religious content if they see it as going too far in promoting religion.”

The Free Press quoted Gearwar as saying in his speech: “I have always dreamed of speaking about God in front of my school as the valedictorian. This was the message God gave to me, and I am not allowed to share it with you even though it is my testimony, the most important change my life has ever experienced, and the one thing that I stand for no matter what.”

The First Amendment Center contributed to this report.

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