Brooks Hamby, the student who gave thanks to Jesus and asked
for the blessing of "the God of the Bible" for his peers during his
high school salutatorian speech last month, said he's surprised
the school district believes their attempts to stifle his freedom of
speech is constitutional.
The Brawley Union High School District in California read over
Hamby's salutatorian speech for approval and rejected it three
times because Hamby mentioned his religion, Jesus and God.
"I was really surprised the school would deny my speech not
once, twice, but three times," said Hamby in an interview with
Todd Starnes of Fox News last week. "I just wanted to say a few
nice words and allow people to see the good news, which is the
In response to a legal query about their refusal to allow
sectarian remarks in graduation speeches and their review of
speeches in advance, the school district maintained that their
policy prohibiting religious references in graduation speeches is
The query to the school district was sent by the Plano, Texas-
based Liberty Institute, which is working on behalf of Hamby.
"We regularly consult with students who have their First
Amendment rights censored by a school," Jeremiah G. Dys,
senior counsel with the Liberty Institute, told The Christian Post.
"We got in contact with Brooks soon after he gave his speech —
the only version which was not censored by the school — and
continue to evaluate his options in response to the school¹s
During an interview last month on Fox News' "Fox & Friends,"
hamby described how the schol district had made several
attempts to censor his speech.
"The first and second times I submitted my speech the school
told me, as well as their attorneys, that any reference to God or
Jesus or prayer of any kind was unconstitutional and they would
pull my mic. Additionally, the third time I handed my speech in
they denied it, and handed it back to me with God or any
reference to my faith blackedout in black marker," Hamby
The third draft was denied on the afternnon of the graduation.
"Time was ticking down and I was at a crossroads and wasn't
really sure what to do. But I decided to stick to the message, and
that was to stick up for my freedom of expression and stand up
for my faith," he added.
In their response to the Liberty Institute, lawyers representing
the school district stated that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
allowed for them to restrict the content of Hamby's graduation
"There is no legal authority that a student speaker — who serves
as a school district's authorized representative of student
success in its ceremony — has a legal right to lead his
classmates in prayer in his salutatory speech," wrote the
"In fact, the Ninth Circuit and California Supreme Court have both expressly (and repeatedly) required public school districts to maintain religious neutrality at graduation ceremonies."
The attorneys also wrote to the Liberty Institute that the original
drafts of Hamby's speech were sectarian in nature, meant for
proselytizing and wrong for a captive audience to be exposed to.
"You claim there was no proselytizing … in Mr. Hamby's draft
speech. However, even a cursory reading of Mr. Hamby's
proposed speeches reveals they were little more than prayers/
sectarian invocations," wrote the lawyers.
Regarding the 10-page letter sent by the school's attorneys, Dys
of the Liberty Institute called their response "remarkable" and
"an open invitation to litigation."
"This detailed legal memo (which probably cost well over
$10,000 for the school to produce) is essentially an open
invitation to litigation — one our client may just accept," said
"Effectively, they have taken all the credit for our client's success
and, thereby, claimed his speech is the school's speech. Our
client earned the right to address his peers. The school should
listen to his speech, not censor it or try to take all the credit for
Brawley Union High School District did not return comment to
The Christian Post by press time.