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Editorial: School was right to edit grad speech

Wednesday, July 9, 2014
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Sometimes the best way to view a situation is to place yourself in the position of another.

That applies well to the case of Amsterdam salutatorian Rebekah Izzo, who is upset that the school district edited some parts of her graduation address because of concerns about religious proselytizing.

Picture yourself as someone of another religion or someone with no religious beliefs. How would you feel listening to a speech promoting something you don't believe in? Would you be offended at being exposed to someone else's personal views at what's supposed to be a celebration of educational achievement? You probably would be.

Imagine you're one of the parents or grandparents in the audience, who just came to honor a member of their own family, not to be converted.

Picture yourself as a fellow classmate, who might be looking for some inspirational words from one of the smartest kids in the class on the last day of high school. If you're not inspired by the Bible, as Ms. Izzo is, then her speech doesn't work for you, either.

Finally, think about being a member of the school administration, which is trying to present a commencement exercise that is enjoyable and meaningful to everyone in the audience, not just a select one or few.

We admire Ms. Izzo for her achievements and are pleased for her that she found spiritual inspiration along the way.

But her claims that school officials somehow trampled on her First Amendment right to freedom of speech by editing the promotion of her religion out of her address are grounded neither in consideration of her audience nor in the courts.

Courts have consistently found that graduations constitute school functions, which gives school officials the right to regulate the content of the speeches and to review and approve them beforehand.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the 1999 case of Cole v. Oroville Union High School District, for instance, ruled that because a graduation ceremony is not a free-speech forum, people might construe religious messages as an endorsement of that message from the district.

The court further concluded that school districts had an obligation under the Constitution's Establishment Clause to ensure that sectarian speech and prayer were not part of the graduation ceremonies.

Ms. Izzo's claims that the editing of her speech demonstrates that the country is moving dangerously in the direction of suppressing rights and opinions are also off the mark. She might be right; it might be moving in that direction. But not because of what happened here.

Despite the concessions, Ms. Izzo was able to deliver an articulate speech that was inspirational and introspective, but that didn’t cross the line of preaching a particular religious viewpoint to those who had a right not to hear it.

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July 9, 2014
6:58 a.m.
-1 votes
wmarincic says...

I guess the Gazette Editors feel that these people in the audience were so stupid that a couple references to God would either ruin their day or it would convert them to that horrible idea of Christianity where people are taught to love and help each other. I remember growing up we had a moment of silence every morning at the start of class. What I don't remember is the high rate of failure, the ignorance or the lack of apathy in kids. Maybe we need more God not less.

July 9, 2014
7 a.m.
+0 votes
muggy says...

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech..."

Citing the 9th U.S.Circuit Court of Appeals, the most overturned Appeals Court in America, is a weak argument.

A religious message, imbedded in a student's graduation speech, hardly means that the school is establishing a religion. Prohibiting free speech, on the other hand, is expressly forbidden.

Message to Ms. Izzo and future grad speakers: tell the "state" what they want to hear and then give your original speech.

July 9, 2014
11:01 a.m.
-3 votes
joycemadre says...

I agree with these prior comments and I am sorry but I feel Ms. Izzo is being overly criticized. Perhaps churches should not be on a public road, and thats just as ridiculous as Amsterdam School District demanding her changes. I do believe the school district should be concentrating on more important issues and they are plenty of those to be addressed.

July 9, 2014
12:05 p.m.
+3 votes
amermike says...

Let's pretend that her speech said, put your faith in Allah or Shiva or Olorun or Waheguru, and not God. Do you feel the same way?

July 10, 2014
10:55 a.m.
+0 votes
joycemadre says...

Yes I would - its called respect for individuals beliefs ! And seriously if this was such an issue leave her speech with one exception HIGHER POWER INSTEAD OF GOD! It may require compromising


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