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UCLA Allows Free Speech at Graduation

imagesbannerscp_120x1201Reprinted by permission of the Christian Post

By Katherine T. Phan
Christian Post Reporter
Sat, Jun. 06 2009 11:52 PM EDT

The University of California in Los Angeles has responded to media pressure and agreed to allow a graduating student to thank Jesus in her personal statement.

UCLA student Christina Popa claimed the school’s Department of Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology was denying her freedom of speech when she was told by Pamela Hurley, a faculty adviser, that she would not be allowed to mention “Jesus” in her graduation remarks.

The adviser had told Popa in an e-mail exchanges this week that it was against the MCDB’s department policy to allow specific religious references based on the principle of separation of church and state.

Hurley, the person selected to read aloud students’ personal statements at the department’s commencement, informed Popa that she would instead read the reference to “my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” as simply “God.”

In response, Popa launched campaign on Facebook that received the support of 1,500 people in a matter of days.

Muzzled

Muzzled

Gordon Klingenschmitt, the former Navy chaplain who was fired over a dispute involving a public prayer he gave in Jesus’ name, also rallied behind the UCLA student. He created an online petition asking UCLA officials to allow Popa to mention “Jesus” in her “Words of Wisdom” statement and issued a press release on the matter, which he then sent the university’s chancellor and provost.

On Friday, a UCLA spokesperson sent Klingenschmitt a statement saying that the school had reviewed its procedures and would read the statements as originally submitted by the students.

“The reading of ‘words of wisdom’ at the UCLA Department of Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology involves graduating students’ submission of a short message to be read onstage at Commencement by a member of the University Administration,” read UCLA’s statement. “Because the reading is by the University, not the students, to avoid the appearance that the University was advocating one religion over the other, guidelines were established so that messages would not include references to particular religions.”

“The department and the University support the First Amendment and in no way intended to impinge upon any students’ rights,” continued the statement.

“Thus, upon review, and recognizing that the intent of the ceremony is for all students to have a chance to say something at graduation, the department will continue to make clear to the audience that the statements are the personal statements of each student and will read statements as originally submitted by the students.”

Klingenschmitt welcomed the UCLA’s response, saying media pressure helped them come to their senses.

“If the university has indeed repented and will read Christina’s statement as originally submitted, then this is a great victory for religious liberty,” Klingenschmitt told The Christian Post on Saturday.

“It proves that we don’t always have to go to court and sometimes just a little media pressure can force administrators to recant from their anti-Christian policies,” the former Navy chaplain stated.

He said only one question remains: “Will Hurley obey her superiors and read the words as originally submitted?”

According e-mail exchanges with Popa, Hurley had objected to the “Jesus” reference, citing the “sheer diversity of religious beliefs” of people at the school and saying she was uncomfortable with reading such a reference at the commencement.

Popa, however, responded that university meant “unity among diversity.”

“It makes me very sad that my freedom of speech would be censored when it comes to my beliefs,” Popa wrote in a reply e-mail to Hurley. “The fact that I cannot thank Jesus (or someone from another religion) because of school policy shows me that UCLA officials do not understand what diversity and respect really means.”

In the last e-mail Hurley sent to Popa, according to the Facebook posting, the faculty adviser stated the department’s policy and the Official Words of Wisdom Disclaimer before capping off with this retort:

“If you prefer, Christina, I can read none of what you wrote.”

Hurley did not immediately respond to a request by The Christian Post for comment.

While things have worked out for Popa, a former Colorado high school student who has been fighting a legal battle to defend her right to invoke Jesus during a 2006 graduation speech was not so fortunate.

On May 29, a federal appeals court dismissed Erica Corder’s claims that high school officials violated her free-speech rights by screening her graduation speech and forcing her to issue a formal apology after tweaking her valedictorian speech to include mention of Jesus.

Liberty Counsel, which is representing Corder in the case, plans to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

“No high school or college graduate should have to renounce Jesus Christ as a price of their high school or college diploma,” said Klingenschmitt, who actively defends public prayers in Jesus’ name. “Jesus is not an illegal word. We should not be ashamed to speak his name in public.

“For any government to demand that we apologize for speaking the name of Jesus is to impose their illegal nonsectarian religion upon us,” he added. “They are shoving their nonsectarian religion down our throats, not the other way around.”

According to UCLA’s Commencement Web site, the Molecular, Cell, & Developmental Biology Graduation will take place Saturday, June 13, starting at 9:00 a.m.

Popa originally wanted the following statement read:

“‘I want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I also want to thank my father who passed away 3 years ago, for teaching me to always do my best and thus motivating me to pursue the sciences. I want to thank my mother for supporting me in school as well as my sisters and brother for encouraging me and my friends for making college fun.’ I plan to work in a research lab or become a dietician.”

Copyright 2009 The Christian Post. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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14 Responses to “UCLA Allows Free Speech at Graduation”

  1. What ever happened to separation of church and state????
    You know church — The place where you go to thank — “place your Jesus equivalent here”
    And then state — The places you go that are supported by tax dollars from people of all different sects, or none at all, and where religion has no business raising its head — FOR OBVIOUS REASONS

    Oh, that's right, the constitution carries no weight in the U.S. anymore, a person no longer has to show a Birth Certificate to become president, ( You can't even receive financial aid at my University with a 'certificate of live birth' but we will overlook the rules in the constitution for 'him').

    So keep on teaching our youth in America that we should FORCE our religions into public academics, pretty soon we'll be as stable as our European counterparts. Next thing you know doctors will be shot dead in churches in the name of Jesus!! Oh wait, that just happened, I guess we are too late.

  2. Mitch, if you religion is worth having in the first place, it should permeate every area of your life. If it's only good for Sunday within the walls of church, it's an irrelevant waste of time.

    If you really want to know about “separation of church and state,” I suggest you stay away from God-hating atheist and secularist websites and read the First Amendment. Here, I'll even provide it for you:

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    Does allowing this girl to have the same freedom of speech as everyone else constitute “Congress [making a] law respecting an establishment of religion”? I think we both know the answer to that.

    Is denying her the freedom to make her own personal statement–as everyone else involved is doing–infringing on her free exercise of religion and speech? I think we both know the answer to that, too.

    The “separation of church and state” our nation was established on meant we have no official state church or state religion. It does NOT mean religious expression should be sanitized from the public square; the First Amendmentment itself makes that very clear.

    But in case it's still a tough nut for some to crack, let me provide some perspective on the proper role of religious faith and values in the public square. This perspective comes from the same people who, incidentally, founded our nation and wrote that Constitution:

    Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness. – George Washington’s Presidential Farewell Address

    We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. – John Adams

    It is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. Religion and virtue are the only foundations…of republicanism and of all free governments. – John Adams

    While the people are virtuous, they cannot be subdued; but when once they lose their virtue, they will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or internal invader. – Samuel Adams

    It should therefore be among the first objects of those who wish well to the national prosperity to encourage and support the principles of religion and morality. – Abraham Baldwin, signer of the Constitution

    Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion whose morality is so sublime and pure…are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments. – Charles Carroll, signer of the Declaration of Independence

    Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters. – Benjamin Franklin

    Sensible of the importance of Christian piety and virtue to the order and happiness of a state, I cannot but earnestly commend to you every measure for their support and encouragement – John Hancock

    Righteousness alone can exalt them [America] as a nation…The great pillars of all government and of social life: I mean virtue, morality and religion. This is the armor, my friend, and this alone, that renders us invincible. – Patrick Henry.

    The practice of morality being necessary for the well-being of society…We all agree in the obligation of the moral precepts of Jesus and nowhere will they be found delivered in greater purity than in His discourses. – Thomas Jefferson

    The Holy Scriptures…can alone secure to society, order and peace, and to our courts of justice and constitutions of government, purity, stability, and usefulness. In vain, without the Bible, we increase penal laws and draw entrenchments around our institutions. Bibles are strong entrenchments. Where they abound, men cannot pursue wicked courses. – James McHenry, signer of the Constitution, Secretary of War

    I believe that religion is the only solid base of morals and that morals are the only possible support of free governments. Therefore education should teach the precepts of religion and the duties of man toward God. – Gouverneur Morris, penman and signer of the Constitution

    Religion and morality…are necessary to good government, good order and good laws, for “when the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice” – William Paterson, signer of the Constitution, U.S. Supreme Court Justice

    The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained. – George Washington’s Inaugural Address

    The law…dictated by God Himself is, of course, superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at all times. No human laws are of any validity if contrary to this. – Alexander Hamilton, signer of the Constitution

    Let it never be forgotten that there can be no genuine freedom where there is no morality, and no sound morality where there is no religion…Hesitate not a moment to believe that the man who labors to destroy these two great pillars of human happiness…is neither a good patriot nor a good man. – Jeremiah Smith, Revolutionary soldier, judge, U.S. Congressman, Governor of New Hampshire

    It yet remains a problem to be solved in human affairs whether any free government can be permanent where the public worship of God and the support of religion constitute no part of the policy or duty of the state in any assignable shape. – Joseph Story, U.S. Supreme Court Judge, Father of American Jurisprudence

    Religion and morality are the essential pillars of civil society – George Washington

    Whatever makes men good Christians, makes them good citizens. – Daniel Webster

    The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were…the general principles of Christianity. – John Adams

    Human law must rest its authority ultimately upon the authority of that law which is divine. – James Wilson, signer of the Constitution, U.S. Supreme Court Judge

    Whoever is an avowed enemy of God, I scruple not to call him an enemy to his country…God grant that in America true religion and civil liberty may be inseparable and that the unjust attempts to destroy one may in the issue tend to the support and establishment of both. – John Witherspoon, signer of the Declaration

    No country on earth ever had it more in its power to attain these blessings than United America. Wondrously strange, then, and much to be regretted indeed it would be, were we to neglect the means and to depart from the road which Providence has pointed us to so plainly; I cannot believe it will ever come to pass. – George Washington

    When a citizen gives his suffrage [vote] to a man of known immorality he abuses his trust [civic responsibility]; he sacrifices not only his own interest, but that of his neighbor; he betrays the interest of his country. – Noah Webster

  3. “Separation of Church & State” was meant to protect religion. That phrase is overused in the name of justifying *attacks” on religion — or, I should say, Christianity. (I have to wonder if a personal statement thanking “Allah” would have been treated the same way.)

    Besides, there's a reason the Bible says that he who is not with Jesus is against him. The neutrality of secularism is a myth. Secularism is not the absence of faith; it is a faith in itself. Those who yell loudest for “religious” influence to be kept out of public life are really demanding the unearned right to have their own belief system be the only one with influence. They may deny this with their words, but their actions confirm it again and again.

  4. The only comment I have on this is, would you Bob or DCM, feel the LEAST twinge if a student got up and thanked Mohammed and Allah. Would you fee the LEAST twinge if a student got up and thanked their atheism for helping them through life.Would you honestly not feel some resentment at all ? If you really say it wouldn't bother you in the least bit, then I'd have nothing further to say.

  5. I would feel some disappointment because I am convinced the Christian worldview is the correct one and best one for any person to live by.

    But the First Amendment isn't about my feelings, is it? It provides no guarantee to protect me from disappointment or offense.

    Which means if a Muslim wants to thank Allah or a atheist wants to thank their own intellectual prowess for their academic success, they have a First Amendment right to do so.

  6. Dr. Rutledge, do you really believe that if a student had declared their intention to thank Allah or atheism there ever would have been a dispute with the University? Honestly.

    We all know that it is the name of Jesus Christ that is the issue. Allah, Buddha, Zoroaster, Zeus or Ba'al would all have been accepted without dissent and Christians would have politely sat through it without disruption.

    What is it about the name of Jesus of Nazareth that elicits such hostility among some people? I think I know.

  7. dr. theo-You make a valid point and I honestly dont know if they would not allow Baal , Allah etc, to be mentioned. Maybe they do have an anti-Christian bias as you suggest.

    My point would be is it appropriate to bring ANY religious belief up in a commensement execise. I wouldn't toss out that my atheism helped guide me through school. Not because I am ashamed of it, but because these are personal beliefs and I wouldn't want to offend or make anyone uncomfortable at such as glorious moment as commensement. I would feel perfectly content to know in my heart that my belief is integral to who I am. Isnt that good enough rather than announcing it to a crowd.

    I am of the old belief that when in a crowd, it's best not to discuss politics or religion.

  8. We agree in principle, Dr. Rutledge. I try not to wear my religious beliefs on my sleeve being that the Lord commands us to be a “light” to the world by our actions. On the other hand, I would not deny my faith in Jesus out of convenience or propriety.

    I guess the issue is the “free exercise thereof.” If a student is so moved I think they should be free to express themselves in any way they wish, within some civil constraints. If schools can't handle the consequences of free speech they should change commencement exercises to some formulaic pablum guaranteed to not offend anyone, nor to excite or stimulate anyone.

    Finally, UCLA is a state school and whatever is done there should be far beyond the reach of the federal government. They should answer only to the people of California through their elected representatives. I reject the very concept of a federal department of education and what it implies. If Californians don't like what their legislature is doing they can vote at the ballot box or with their feet (as thousands are doing).

  9. As an Atheist, I fully support this girl's right to thank whomever she wants, be it Zeus, Allah, Jesus Christ or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. If she believes Jesus helped her through school, so be it. Let her say it. She is not an employee of UCLA. She is not an administrator of the school or on the board of trustees.

    It's her moment. Let her enjoy it the way she wants. I may not agree with what she says. In fact, I don't, but who am I to keep her from saying it?

  10. It's rare to see an atheist display such a fair-minded opinion, but I appreciate it, David. While I'd rather atheists see things my way theistically, if one is going to be an atheist, I wish more could display this kind of objective fairness. Thanks!

  11. Bob– You might be surprised that most atheists ( the ones I know at least ) would agree that this student has the right to mention her religion as a source of inspiration to her. Like most Christians, Jews etc. , atheists go through life without wanting to cause a ruckus. The atheist zealots and extremists unfortuneately are the ones covered in the media and who write to you. I cringe sometimes when I hear them.

    My point is that I would not enjoy a parade of students getting up( or having their words spoken by another in this case) and espousing there various religious beliefs at a commensement exercise. For me, that would detract from the real reason we were there-celebrate getting them of the family payroll.Seriously, they do have the right to mention their faith, but my personal preference would not to hear a student give thanks to the Wiccam gods or Richard Dawkins

    Maybe I do have an anti-religious streak that lays at the bottom of these feelings. Something I need to explore.

  12. I agree that a theological exposition would be inappropriate in this type of setting, but when students are allowed to make a brief statement of sentiment or thanks, there just shouldn't be any question that they should be allowed to thank their God for their success.

    You probably have a point about the militant types, and that I hear from them disproportionately as opposed to the more reasonable ones. There are “squeaky wheels” and crackpots in any group (we have a few in conservative circles, too).

  13. Bob– You might be surprised that most atheists ( the ones I know at least ) would agree that this student has the right to mention her religion as a source of inspiration to her. Like most Christians, Jews etc. , atheists go through life without wanting to cause a ruckus. The atheist zealots and extremists unfortuneately are the ones covered in the media and who write to you. I cringe sometimes when I hear them.

    My point is that I would not enjoy a parade of students getting up( or having their words spoken by another in this case) and espousing there various religious beliefs at a commensement exercise. For me, that would detract from the real reason we were there-celebrate getting them of the family payroll.Seriously, they do have the right to mention their faith, but my personal preference would not to hear a student give thanks to the Wiccam gods or Richard Dawkins

    Maybe I do have an anti-religious streak that lays at the bottom of these feelings. Something I need to explore.

  14. I agree that a theological exposition would be inappropriate in this type of setting, but when students are allowed to make a brief statement of sentiment or thanks, there just shouldn't be any question that they should be allowed to thank their God for their success.

    You probably have a point about the militant types, and that I hear from them disproportionately as opposed to the more reasonable ones. There are “squeaky wheels” and crackpots in any group (we have a few in conservative circles, too).