Creationist Wisdom #449: The Salutatorian

Today’s letter-to-the-editor appears in the Daily Gazette of Schenectady, New York. It’s titled: Amsterdam High graduate still upset about censored speech.

This thing isn’t actually a letter. It’s a column about the Amsterdam High School salutatorian (who presumably ranks second in the graduation class), but we’ll treat this as if it were her letter. We don’t like to embarrass people (unless they’re politicians, preachers, or other public figures), so although the graduate is named and there’s a big picture of her at the head of the column, we’ll use only her first name, which is Rebekah. Here are a few excerpts from the column, enhanced with our Curmudgeonly commentary and some bold font for emphasis:

[W]hen Amsterdam High School salutatorian [Rebekah] turned in her remarks to school officials, red flags were quickly raised. [Rebekah], a young woman who has strong Christian beliefs, included a verse from the Bible and some strong religious rhetoric in her original speech that caught the eye of the school’s principal, David Ziskin.

Ah, the plot thickens. Then we’re told:

The school reviews all graduation speeches before allowing students to read them, and [Rebekah] said officials forced her to remove parts of her speech in which she shared personal religious messages with both her fellow students and the audience at graduation. “Instead of saying ‘Put your trust in God,’ they wanted me to say something like ‘I put my trust in God,’” she said.

Outrageous censorship! Let’s read on:

The 18-year old Amsterdam resident began her speech, which is posted on YouTube, by saying: “This is not my original speech … because it contained a personal message to each individual here of what God can do in your own life.” She was disappointed she had to remove those parts of her speech. “I worked really hard to become the salutatorian and to reach that stage,” she said.

We know what you’re thinking: What does this have to do with creationism? Be patient, as we continue:

After looking at the speech, Ziskin decided to turn it over to Greater Amsterdam School District Superintendent Thomas Perillo … . Perillo and school district attorneys poured over the language in the speech extensively — Perillo said they wanted to make sure the speech could not be considered proselytizing and in no way favored one religion over another. “It is the district’s responsibility to make sure a speech at graduation does not favor one religion,” Perillo said. He concluded the Bible verse and a few other parts of the speech were indeed proselytizing and told [Rebekah] to take them out.

This is secularism run wild! Here’s what Rebekah thinks:

“The fact that parts of my speech were removed shows the direction our country is headed in,” she said. “We are losing the rights to voice our opinions, and our rights are diminishing every day. People should be able to decide whether they want to believe in what I am saying or not.”

Yeah! Why not let the kid preach? But that’s not all she has to say:

She equated the school district’s decision to remove parts of her speech to the its mandatory curriculum, which, she said, forced her to sit in science classes where the theory of evolution was taught and the idea that Adam and Eve were the first humans to walk the Earth was refuted.

“I had to sit through those classes, even though I didn’t want to,” she said. “After taking the classes, I had to make up my mind and decide what to believe in.”

Oh, how horrible! She had to endure classes that taught blasphemy, but when it was her turn, she couldn’t give a sermon at her graduation. Then we’re told that Rebekah plans to go to nursing school. The column ends with one more quote from her:

“I am really excited to begin the next phase of my life and to continue to speak out for what I believe in,” [Rebekah] said.

Your Curmudgeon hopes that Rebekah recovers from the nightmare of her education, and that she has a happy life as a creationist nurse.

Copyright © 2014. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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15 responses to “Creationist Wisdom #449: The Salutatorian

  1. Jill Smith

    This inquiring mind wants to know what substance the board’s attorneys were “pouring” over the young lady’s speech?

  2. Jill Smith says:

    This inquiring mind wants to know what substance the board’s attorneys were “pouring” over the young lady’s speech?

    I used to misuse that word all the time, until someone recently corrected me, so I can’t be very critical about it.

  3. The salutatorian says, “I had to sit through those classes, even though I didn’t want to,” and, “After taking the classes, I had to make up my mind and decide what to believe in.”

    I did the same thing after all my classes. Was Rhonda Jefferson our third president? Isn’t Tennessee actually called West Carolina? Doesn’t my circulatory system run on Dr. Pepper and Cheez Whiz?

    These are the things I’ve decided to believe in!

  4. Wait till she has to sit through science classes in nursing school.

  5. waldteufel

    I suggest waldteufel’s two-step program to Rebekah, to wit:

    1. Get a soap box, find a busy street corner, stand on soap box, get your megaphone ready, read aloud your prayers and speech in their entirety, just as you wrote them. Enjoy the smiles of those who listen and approve.

    2. Quit whining and sniveling, learn about the First Amendment, and grow up.

  6. docbill1351

    I had to sit through those classes, even though I didn’t want to,

    Yeah, well you didn’t have to sit through Quantum Mechanics II, did you, young lady? You didn’t have to sweat it out solving a triple integral and sketching the resulting orbital – with a PENCIL, did you, young lady? Where was your God when he was needed in CHEM 678, hmmmmmm? It’s a miracle I didn’t come out worse than I did!

  7. Ceteris Paribus

    To be fair there is no direct connection between a medical professional’s personal religious philosophy and their ability to carry out their work, provided they are competently trained to existing standards of care.

    When hospitalized, most of us are just happy to have a nurse that knows to stop pushing on a Foley catheter before the business end comes out an ear drum or something. We don’t require that they can administer prayers or words of comfort attuned to our own preferred philosophy.

    What does do grievous damage to the status of the medical profession are state licensed practitioners who, on religious grounds, refuse to administer necessary drugs or emergency procedures which are appropriate for the patient under their care.

  8. waldteufel

    Poor, sweet little Rebekah whines: “After taking the classes, I had to make up my mind and decide what to believe in.”

    The bar must be set pretty low for a Salutatorian from Amsterdam High School. The horrors! The little darlin’ had to think and stuff . . . . .

  9. Ceteris Paribus

    Rebekah says: “After taking the classes, I had to make up my mind and decide what to believe in.”

    “I HAD to make up my mind”? What cruel public school despot held a sword to this young woman’s throat at the end of the semester and demanded that she HAD to make up her mind?

    Now at age 18 she is an adult, and can go out and look straight into the faces of the entire world, to boldly ask a few more questions.
    If she really wants to.
    Maybe.

  10. I wonder how Rebekah handled her other science classes besides biology. If her God can intervene at will in the physical world with miracles, then there are no laws of physics. By definition, a law in science is always true; no exceptions. If God made gazillions of gallons of water (4 x gazillions of liters) suddenly appear on earth and then just as suddenly made all that water disappear, he had to violate the laws of physics. Likewise, in making the sun stand still in the sky, He had to instantaneously stop the earth’s rotation — and also stop all the ocean’s water, otherwise there would have been a 1000 mph tsunami washing over all the continents.

  11. Actually, I’m troubled that Rebekah’s school made her take those passages out. So what if they were proselytizing? Couldn’t her listeners make up their own minds? Since they were presumably mostly her teachers, fellow students, and parents, couldn’t they be trusted to make up their own minds?

    I’m no happier than anyone else to be bombarded with Bible-pounder BS. But censoring it in a context like this one only plays into the fundamentalists’ unevolved hands by allowing them to complain that they are being persecuted just as the end-times prophecies they believe in say they’ll be before Jesus comes again. And it makes nonbelievers look as though they’re afraid their own ideas won’t stand up if challenged.

  12. Jill Smith

    Eric, I think the difference is that this is a highly meaningful event for most children and their families, but it is, for public purposes, a secular event. The young lady would have been speaking to a captive audience who should never have to choose between staying away from their child’s graduation and listening to a speech that might offend their religious convictions. Nobody gets to use a public school event for evangelistic purposes even if the chance of persuading someone is virtually nil. The school board went farther than I probably would have done–are they prepared to have their next salutatorian publicly thank Lord Vishnu or the Blessed Virgin Mary for his or her success? I don’t tend to encourage excessiveness touchiness, but I do think a family of any or no religion should understand that no public school function will marginalize them as outsiders, challenge their cherished beliefs, or subject them to rhetoric that might be offensive as well as tiresome.

  13. If it’s a speech sanctioned by a government body (such as a public school), it can be considered as the official position of the governing body. Rebeka’s salutatorian speech could be considered the official position of the school (thus, the government), since most in the audience would rightly assume the school administration okayed it. So if she proselytizes, it’s school-sanctioned proselytizing, and if it’s a public school (which is the case here), it’s government proselytizing.

    Moreover, since the salutatorian speech is an official part of the graduation ceremonies, Rebekah is speaking for the school. As such, the school administration has the right to review what she plans to say, regardless of the constitution. After all, people are attending to see their student’s graduation, not listen to a sermon. As it says in Ecclesiastes, there’s a time and a place for everything — and a high school graduation is not the place for a sermon.

    Maybe Rebekah should follow the Golden Rule. Would she want someone of a different religious belief haranguing her about his religion? Probably not.
    She should let that fact guide her actions.

  14. Retired Prof

    As usual, retiredsciguy has it right.

    A Hasidic Jew who teaches at Notre Dame gave me a tour of the campus and led me with some pride to the impressive cathedral there. But he stopped at the door because his religion forbids him to be present at non-Jewish religious observances, or even to enter the sacred spaces where they are held. Rebekah’s comments would have offended observant Jews, and maybe impelled them to leave.

    And from what I know about fundamentalist Christians, rsg is absolutely right about Rebekah’s probable reaction if a muslim student had given an analogous speech. People of her persuasion would have flooded the letters-to-the-editor page with shrill warnings about the perils of Sharia Law. They would have demanded that the school fire the principal and never permit such a transgression again.

  15. Often times churches will celebrate their graduates with a special mention during the service, why not save the original speech and give it there? The person in question also could have went to a religious school, where she could have been as preachy as she wanted to be.
    It should be noted that the salutatorian gives the welcome speech, a certain ceremonial role. it is often given to students as an honor but it should by no means be considered a right to give a speech beyond the scope of that honor.
    I once had the occasion to go to a fundamentalist graduation, where the guest preacher was the head of the Michigan fundamentalists (or at least that is how he was introduced.) What followed was at least one hour of preaching (seemed like 3). Considering the venue that was obviously their right to conduct their graduation this way. If any preaching is allowed I just have to wonder how long before that kind of long winded soul saving becomes a right?