Brooks Hamby never wanted to be a rabble-rouser. He just wanted to thank Jesus in his high school graduation speech.
But the Brawley Union School District in Brawley, Calif., said the references to Jesus and prayer in Brooks’ graduation speech were “inappropriate” and violated “prevailing legal standards.”
School officials rejected three versions of the young man’s graduation address, and one administrator went so far as to redact every religious reference with a black marker – as if it were some sort of top secret government document.
“The first and second draft speeches proposed oppose government case law and are a violation of the Constitution,” read a warning letter sent to the young man. “The district is advising you that reference to religious content is inappropriate and that the two drafts provided will not be allowed.”
So the 18-year-old Christian did what any red-blooded, Constitution-loving American would do – he defied school officials and thanked God anyway.
“I didn’t want to compromise my faith,” Brooks told me. “I wasn’t interested in removing every trace of God or Jesus. I wasn’t interested in conforming to those demands. I did not want to compromise my values. I didn’t want to water down the message.”
The Stanford University-bound student's troubles started last Monday when he was notified that he had been selected as the salutatorian. He was instructed to turn in his speech on Wednesday – the day before graduation.
The first draft of his speech was written in the form of a prayer. “Heavenly Father, in all times, let us always be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven us.”
Brooks was called to the front office, where he was advised by a counselor that the speech had been rejected. So he began writing a second draft that he turned in later that day. That draft referenced the school’s censorship of his original speech.
“Certain interpretations of the law, school policies and conditions have stifled my ability to speak freely to you this evening and prohibited me from doing otherwise,” he wrote. “However, if I could pray with you this evening, I would say something along these lines.”
On Thursday morning, just hours before graduation, Brooks and his parents were summoned to a meeting with the principal. The Hambys were given a notice from the district advising them that if their son “interjects religious content, the sound will be cut off, and a disclaimer to the entire audience must be made explaining the district’s position.”