I want to compare two similar situations and make a point I think many have failed to notice.
In 2006, Brittany McComb was valedictorian at Foothill High School, in Nevada. Before giving her speech, the officials of the school told her she had to edit her speech, removing all religious references. So she wrote a new, edited version, free from religion.
Then proceeded to use her original speech during commencement.
In a clear case of, "same shit, different day" we move ahead to 2011. Except now the valedictorian is Kyle Gearwar, and the location is Fair Haven Union High School in Vermont. He too was forced to remove religious references from his speech.
However, instead of applying the bait-n-switch tactic that Brittany used, he decided to honor the religious teachings of respecting his elders, and actually used the approved, edited speech.
In both cases, the student was praised by friends, family and readers of their stories for performing the actions they did.
And yet, they both performed almost exact opposite actions. One defied the school officials. The other used the approved speech.
Two cases almost exact. Two almost opposite responses. And yet, in both cases, the valedictorian won public favor, and the school lost. How could this happen?
Simple: In both cases, the actions of the school officials were so ethically wrong that they had zero chance being shown in a good light.
In both cases, the schools decision to censor caused them to lose no matter what.
As an Atheist, let me just say this: The schools were WRONG to censor the religious references from those speeches.
Notice in the above story I never state the exact religion mentioned in their speeches. It doesn't matter. the fact is these were valedictorians. Heads of their graduating classes. They worked hard for years to achieve this. Giving a speech at commencement is part of the rewards they are given for this. They earned the right to spike the ball, do their victory dance, and praise, thank or acknowledge whoever or whatever they wish. They have earned the right to have their voices heard during this occasion on any subject they choose. Be it academic, religious, political, doesn't matter. The fact that some folks in the crowd may disagree is NOT a valid excuse. I defy anyone to point out any speech ever given in public where it had 100% approval.
If the officials feel the need to protect the school from some silly lawsuit, then before welcoming them onto the stage, please give some legal mumbo jumbo like "the words given by our speaker do not necessarily reflect the views of the school" or some such. Then step back, clap and allow them to shine on their own.
Any other action will cause you to lose, no matter what.
And as you can see, I'm not the only Atheist who feels this way.