High School Backs Away from Attempts to Censor Graduation Speech About Faith In God

Jun 7, 2004

Rome, Pennsylvania - After winning a hard-fought battle over an attempt to censor religious references from his speech, Stephen Laudermilch delivered his uncensored valedictorian speech on Friday during the Northport Bradford High School graduation ceremony. Stephen was represented by Mathew Staver, President and General Counsel for Liberty Counsel, and Joel Oster, Senior Litigation Counsel for Liberty Counsel, in the fight to protect his freedom of speech.

After the school district previewed Stephen’s speech and censored the religious content, he contacted Liberty Counsel. Liberty Counsel advised Stephen that the school district could not legally censor his graduation message. Consequently, Stephen demanded that he be allowed to give the uncensored speech. Earlier this year, Liberty Counsel announced a “‘Friend or Foe’ Graduation Campaign”, meaning that Liberty Counsel will either be a friend by providing free legal representation to schools that take a neutral position toward students’ graduation messages, or will be a foe of schools that censor the religious viewpoint or content of student speakers. Instead of facing a federal lawsuit, the school district became a “friend” of Liberty Counsel, and Stephen was allowed to publicly thank God.

As valedictorian, Stephen earned the right to speak at his graduation. Stephen is the fourth graduate in his family to give a speech at either baccalaureate or graduation ceremonies. Stephen marked this special occasion by highlighting the importance of friendships. In his speech, he said, “We all know that it is much easier to go through hard times with friends at your side.” Stephen reserved the most praise for his “one true friend,” stating, “I have also been able to depend upon my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as my one true friend who is always with me whenever I need Him.” Stephen added, “He tells us that He will never leave us nor forsake us. This promise has provided much encouragement to me throughout my entire life.” Stephen gave Jesus Christ all the credit for his accomplishments, stating, “I make no apology for giving Jesus the credit for the success I have had in academics, athletics, community organizations, and hard times. Since Jesus has given me the ability to do the things that I can do, I give Him the glory and honor for each and every one of them.”

Mathew Staver, President and General Counsel for Liberty Counsel, commented, “Students do not lose their constitutional rights when they step foot on the graduation platform or participate in other school events.” Staver added, “The school district should be applauded for agreeing to not censor Stephen’s speech. While schools are gun-free zones and drug-free zones, they are not religion-free zones.” Staver concluded, “We will continue to aggressively defend the rights of students to give uncensored graduation messages.”