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Pastor's Pro-Faith Graduation Speech Sparks Outrage, School Kowtows to Atheist Group and Issues New Guidelines

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After the Freedom from Religion Foundation objected to a speaker who mentioned his religion during an address, the school district in Appleton, Wisconsin, is forcing everyone else who speaks to take an oath to say a pre-approved script before they take the podium.

According to the Appleton Post-Crescent, the Appleton Area School District is mandating that remarks be submitted and approved before they’re delivered. And, if you think speakers can just deviate from them, you’re wrong — they’ll have to swear under oath that they’re going to stick to them.

The FFRF calls this a “good solution.”

The plan was touched off by a speech given by a school board member at a graduation ceremony at the city’s North High School in June.

The Post-Crescent reported Rev. Alvin Dupree “said his source of strength is his faith and relationship with Jesus Christ and invited fellow Christians to applaud in agreement.

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“Dupree, founder and minister of Family First Ministries, also told students to ‘never succumb to the pressure of being politically correct’ or ‘another man’s norm,’ led a moment of silence for a student who died before graduating with the class and closed his speech by changing the district’s prepared statement of ‘best wishes’ to ‘God bless.'”

Enter the FFRF, which believes the First Amendment’s freedom of religion essentially means you shut up about your religion pretty much anywhere near a public school or courtroom.

The organization wrote a letter to the district blasting them for “failure to take appropriate action” against Dupree and called for him to be banned from all events sponsored by the district — even though he’s a member of the board.

The organization also demanded that comments be submitted to the school board for approval and that there be a procedure in place which would allow the mic to be cut if the comments were deviated from.

Do you think that this policy violates the First Amendment?

While the FFRF didn’t get its wishlist, it came shockingly close.

“The opportunity to speak at a school event is a privilege, not a right,” a statement from Appleton Area School District issued last month read.

“These guidelines do not restrict or regulate individual speech or expression. However, individual speech and expression may still be subject to other restrictions or limitations that are imposed by law or that the District may lawfully enforce through other policies, rules or practices.”

Appleton schools superintendent Judy Baseman said that the new regulations would apply “consistently across any speakers.” This included students, although they seemed to be an afterthought in the policy.

“It comes back to one of the main pillars of our district’s strategic plan, which is to provide an inclusive, safe environment for all, while also balancing individual rights,” Baseman said.

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“That’s critical to our role as a public school and we’re confident that these guidelines will accomplish that for our students, families and staff.”

Inclusivity and safety — provided, of course, you’re not a Christian who wants to talk about the role faith plays in their life. Or wear a cross around your neck, for that matter.

“A speaker may propose to be permitted to wear jewelry, clothing, or accessories that reasonably could be understood to communicate a message to the audience when the speech is given,” the policy reads.

“Speakers must disclose whether they intend to wear any such material(s) and must provide a photo of the material identified at the same time that the full and complete text of the speech is submitted.”

There’s plenty of other disturbing stuff in the document, but perhaps the most ominous line was that the guidelines were “not a mandate” and could be enforced at the discretion of the superintendent. You can guess, in other words, who’s going to be affected by this.

“We think the district did the right thing,” Ryan Jayne, an attorney with the FFRF, said. “We expect there won’t be any problems with [Rev.] Dupree speaking at district events in the future, because under these guidelines we don’t expect that he’ll be allowed to speak.”

Exactly. The FFRF had contacted the district three times in two years over Dupree. Now, they’ve finally shut him up.

“I think it’s a total disgrace for such procedures to be in place, because it has the potential to be used at the sole discretion of one person to discriminate against anyone that doesn’t line up with that position,” Dupree said regarding the ban, calling it “systematic bullying” and a “direct attack on the First Amendment.”

“To me, that is criminal and it’s wrong and it doesn’t lead to tolerance,” he said. “I’m not trying to force anyone of any faith or any religion or belief to think as I do — I think everyone should be allowed to freely express who they are as an individual.”

As Dupree pointed out, the superintendent “isn’t a lawyer, district attorney, judge or police officer trained in constitutional or other state and federal laws.”

And yet, they’re going to exercise discretion over what speech is allowed — both from board members and, distressingly, from students as well.

This is nothing more than a blatant attempt to take away First Amendment rights in the name of the First Amendment. Shameful.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Birthplace
Morristown, New Jersey
Education
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture




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