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First Liberty Briefing

First Liberty Briefing is an exclusive podcast hosted by First Liberty Institute’s Senior Counsel Jeremy Dys. In about 90-seconds, three times a week, Jeremy recalls the stories that have shaped America’s religious liberty, from the founding era to current legal battles and more. It’s an insider’s look at the stories, cases, people, and laws that have made America the world’s leader in protecting religious liberty.
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Aug 15, 2018

After working hard for four years Sam Blackledge was named co-valedictorian and spent weeks working on his speech only to be told hours before that he had to remove all references to his faith. Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.


High school graduation is filled with pomp and circumstance.  It’s supposed to be a joyous day as years of study culminate with caps and gowns, hearing everyone’s middle names, and mother’s weeping with joy.

That’s the kind of day Sam Blackledge expected. With a perfect 4.0 GPA, Sam earned the position of co-valedictorian of his senior class at West Prairie High School. But, as graduates assembled in the small gymnasium surrounded by small farms in rural, northwest Illinois, school officials determined that Sam could not give his speech.

Why?  Because Sam’s speech mentioned God.  Minutes before the ceremony began, Sam was crushed with the news.

The last lesson this school district taught its students is that they should hide their religious beliefs from public view. Sam’s only high school graduation was ruined.  One wonders how many more graduations must be ruined before school officials learn that the First Amendment protect student remarks at graduation.

Sadly, there was a simple solution.  As Judge Easterbrook explained, writing in Hedges v. Wauconda Community School District, “The schools proper response is to educate the audience rather than squelch the speaker.”  And, if schools can’t teach that basic lesson, Judge Easterbrook observes, “one wonders whether the schools can teach anything at all.”

First Liberty represents Sam, hoping to protect future students who wish to reference their religious beliefs while on campus.

To learn how First Liberty is protecting religious liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.

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