MOSS BLUFF, LA. (EP) – A Louisiana high school graduate is suing her local school officials for censoring her valedictory speech at commencement. Angela Kay Guidry, who was graduated from Sam Houston High School here in May, says her principal’s refusal to let her speak unless she omitted all planned religious references was a violation of her rights to free speech and free exercise of religion.
Guidry is being represented by attorneys of the Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties organization specializing in religious freedom questions. Her attorneys are seeking a declaratory judgment protecting Guidry and other students from “interference [with] or denial of” constitutional rights.
According to the lawsuit, Guidry submitted her speech to principal Kerry Durr for review May 15. The speech began by thanking “my Lord Jesus who has allowed me to be in this position tonight.” The speech went on to explain Guidry’s personal source of motivation. “To me the most important thing in your life is not whether you have a good education or a good job, but whether or not you have the Lord in your life. It doesn’t matter how many years you go to school or how successful you are in this life, if you’re not doing it all for the Lord,” stated the speech.
She planned to close the speech by explaining her belief that people needed to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Savior. “My prayer and challenge to you tonight,” she had written, “is that you would seek the Lord Jesus, believe in Him, and give your heart and life to Him.”
Guidry’s lawsuit says that Durr read the speech and said, “You can’t argue with that,” but later that day guidance counselor Sylvia Seals telephoned Guidry and asked her to change the speech. A few days later, Guidry says, Seals “engaged in a tirade of criticism” within earshot of Guidry’s fellow students, and when Guidry attempted to walk away Seals “grabbed her arm and continued making derogatory and slanderous remarks” about her religious beliefs.
Guidry was later told by Durr to delete all references to personal religious views so no one would be “offended” by the speech. Guidry refused, and was told she would not be allowed to speak.
The school authorities contend that Durr’s decision was based on the fear that Guidry’s remarks may have been taken as an endorsement of religious view by school authorities. Rutherford attorneys, however, argue that a “valedictorian address is, by its very nature, a personal bidding of farewell,” and say Guidry was unconstitutionally deprived of “a meaningful opportunity to exercise her right of free speech and freely express her sincerely held beliefs.”
The suit seeks declaratory judgment forbidding similar interference in the future, and compensatory and punitive damages for Seals’ “inflamatory remarks impugning [Guidry’s] moral character.”