rebelling against low expectations

Brittany McComb: Legal Brief Available


The Rutherford Institute — representing high school valedictorian Brittany McComb (read the full story, click here) — has recently posted its legal brief in the First Amendment lawsuit it has filed against the Clark County school district.

We know our legal-minded readers will be interested. However, others who have followed the story should also attempt to glean some of the detailed information and arguments it contains.

Although we decided that excerpts were to lengthy to include in this post, several sections of interest include the argument based on the text of the school district’s regulations (pages 6-7) and the step-by-step account of the events leading up to the graduation ceremony (pages 7-13).

Download the PDF: Click Here.
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About the author

Alex and Brett Harris

are the co-founders of and co-authors of Do Hard Things and Start Here. They have a passion for God and for their generation. Their personal interests include politics, filmmaking, music, and basketball. They are both graduates of Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia.


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  • Suzannah: I do not expect secular school district officials to act in accordance with my Christian presuppositions. Because of that, my opposition to their actions stems from what I see as a violation of Brittany’s constitutional rights of free speech and freedom of religion, as well as violating Clark County school district regulations, which state:

    Where students or other private graduation speakers are selected on the basis of genuinely neutral, evenhanded criteria and retain primary control over the content of their expression… that expression is not attributable to the school and, therefore, may not be restricted because of its religious (or anti-religious) content. To avoid any mistaken perception that a school endorses student or other private speech that is not in fact attributable to the school, school officials may make appropriate neutral disclaimers to clarify that such speech is not school sponsored.

    In answer to your question: I would be similarly opposed to the school district, even if Brittany was a member of another religion. However, my support of Brittany goes beyond the district regulations or the text of the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. In that sense, my support would differ. Does that make sense?

    Hope that answers your question!

  • May I ask if you would have been similarly supportive if it had been a Jew, Muslim, or Hindu who had done the same thing as Brittany?

  • Ian: I really appreciate your comments on this issue, because I know that a lot of people (myself included) have had similar thoughts.

    From what I have read, watched, and listened to (i.e. almost everything), I would not say that Brittany lied. To be more precise, I don’t believe that she said she would present the edited version of her speech while still planning to give the non-edited version. I think the final decision to go with the original speech came much closer to the actual ceremony.

    I think it’s also important to note that, at the time, the McCombs and their attorney were in the midst of their attempts to contact and/or meet with the school district attorney to discuss the speech. According to the legal brief, none of their calls were ever returned.

    After giving this a lot of thought, the conclusion I believe best explains the facts is that, when Brittany said that she would give the edited version of her speech, she was still hoping that her parents would be able to settle the matter with the school district attorney, whether favorably or unfavorably, prior to the graduation ceremony. It wasn’t intended to deceive. Instead, it was intended to appease them until her parents could resolve the issue. Of course, when the school district attorney repeatedly failed to return their calls requesting to meet with him, Brittany was faced with a last-minute decision. She could 1) go along and give the edited speech or 2) give the speech that God had placed on her heart. From the little I have seen of Brittany’s heart for Christ, I don’t believe she could have stood before her classmates and their families and given a speech with only a generic reference to a “divine being.”

    However, from an admittedly limited perspective on the last several days and hours before her graduation, I believe that it probably would have been better for Brittany to communicate her decision to the school officials prior to the ceremony. It would likely have resulted in a similar censorship and violation of her freedom of speech/religion, but would have given the school district no basis to say that she was trying to be deceptive.

    Hindsight is always 20-20 (or at least, closer to it). But what I can say with confidence is that Brittany’s motivation was and is to do whatever God has called her to do (see the full text of her speech). From what I can tell, Brittany has honored her parents in this situation from the beginning. She was certainly not trying to draw national attention. She was simply seeking to share the message God had placed on her heart. Because of that, she has my support.

  • Spunky: I definitely agree that Brittany should apologize to the school officials involved for any dishonesty on the part of her or her parents. I think that would be a powerful testimony to them and to others. Given the chance, I will encourage her to do so.

    However, there are several final things I would like to clarify. If you would like to have the last word, feel free. Others may take up the discussion in my place.

    First, the majority of this discussion has tended to start Brittany’s story at the point where she “erred” and does not separate or distinguish that point from the legal case. It did not start there. It began when Brittany submitted a speech that she was chosen to present at graduation because of neutral and even-handed criteria (her personal academic merit) and was wrongly censored for religious content that she was perfectly within her rights to share. It continued with increased pressure from school district officials and a district attorney who refused to speak with her, her family, or her family’s lawyer. All of that occured prior to any “error” on her part and that, by itself, is the foundation of the lawsuit against the school district. The “sin” that “often leads to the other party taking a wrong action in return” was not on Brittany’s part, but the school district’s.

    Second, I would point out the subtle but important distinction between being and doing — two very different things. Brittany did wrong by failing to communicate her decision to the school officials. But it was the school officials who were wrong (from the beginning) in their censorship and discrimination. Brittany’s error does not put her “in the wrong.”

    Third, although it has been stated that Brittany’s admitted imperfection does not excuse her error (something I don’t believe was ever argued), there has been a seeming tendency to speak as if the fact that we cannot expect non-Christians to act rightly somehow excuses them from being held accountable to the law (both earthly and heavenly law). The God-established purpose of the state (including the court system) is to reward objective good and punish objective evil.

    Fourth, to everyone (Spunky particularly) allow me to apologize for speaking too quickly in that last paragraph of my previous comment. It was not my intention to imply (which I did) that the facts don’t matter because the lawsuit has been filed. I hope the entirety of this comment clarifies what I meant to say.

    Fifth, I was also wrong when I said that Christians must either side with Brittany or with the school district. Although I disagree with the viewpoint, it is possible to see both parties as undeserving of support.

    For both of those errors, please forgive me.

    And so, to conclude my involvement in this discussion (for the time being)… Spunky, it’s been a pleasure to discuss this with you. Thank you for the wisdom and experience you brought to the discussion — wisdom and experience I don’t yet have. May God bless you for your continued service to the body of Christ.

  • Lastly, if we are going to acknowledge and excuse Brittany’s behavior and error because she is sinful and an imperfect human –saved by grace — shouldn’t the same grace be extended to the school administrators? Why is grace only extended to cover Brittany’s error but not the school administrators?

  • You added that last paragraph after I posted.

    It’s not a matter of which side we should not be taking sides in the lawsuit. It’s a matter of honestly looking at the facts and determining what is right. We cannot with integrity just sweep past facts aside because a lawsuit has been filed and then declare picking one side or the other the only valid option.

    Just to clarify, by not supporting Brittany DOES NOT mean I support what the school did in return. As is often the case, when one party sins it often leads the other party to take a wrong action in return.

    The question as Christians we must ask is what is biblical restoration? And when one party is a Christian and the other is not, does that change the action of the believer?

  • If it is true,as you say, that she believes she has erred then we ought to encourage her to go to those who she has erred against and seek their forgiveness. I have not read that she has done so. If she is pursuing God then she should go and seek to make peace with those she has wronged, the school. That would seem to be the thing those counseling her should be encouraging her to do. Ibelieve that is the best support and encouragement we can give this sister in Christ.

    This has nothing to do with Brittany’s motivation for seeking the lawsuit. It has to do with what is a Christian to do when they make a promise and then go back on that promise. What is the righteous thing to do? Is it to sue the opposing party for taking an action we then disagree with?

    I understand that this could be a landmark case. But let’s not let the possibilities cloud out the realities. She made an agreement and then backed out. What is the right thing to do?

    I believe this article by John Macarthur says it better than I could

  • Spunky: I think we are in agreement that Brittany should have informed the school about her decision to give the original version. I was not attempting to imply that there was no err on her part. I know she would never claim that and that she has never claimed that (quite the contrary, actually). In fact, I have no doubt that if she had the opportunity to do things over, she would have done things differently. All that to say that the lawsuit has not prevented Brittany from realizing her own faults or their consequences.

    With that understanding, I believe that the case has legal and Constitutional merits that go beyond any failure to communicate her decision. The problem was not unplugging the microphone mid-speech. The problem was the censorship that ultimately led to the microphone being unplugged. I do not believe that Brittany is pursuing legal action for her own sake — whether for money or “vindication” or more attention. I don’t think you would say that either.

    So here’s my thought process:

    1.) Brittany recognizes her own faults and shortcomings. She has not attempted to hide them. She has learned from her mistakes and would do things differently if it happened again.

    2.) Brittany’s motivation has not been self-seeking, either in giving her speech or in pursuing legal action. She did (past tense) what she felt God was calling her to do and she is (present tense) doing what she feels God is calling her to do, even though it wasn’t what she wanted.

    3.) She is honoring her parents.

    So when I ask myself the questions: As a Christian young person… Is she pursuing God’s will for her life over her own? Is she walking in humility? Is she honoring her parents? Each time, the answer is yes. I question how much more we can (or even should) demand before giving our support to a sister in Christ.

    For others reading this discussion: The truth is that a lawsuit has already been filed. I don’t think “not supporting either party” is a valid option. Do we support Brittany or do we support the school district? With all of the above in mind and recognizing (as does she) that she is a sinful and imperfect human being — saved by grace alone — I support Brittany.

  • Sorry about the few typos in the last comment. I have a bad habit of hitting publish when I meant preview.

    This sentence,

    However, that shouldnt’ allow us to examine the situation completely.

    That should say,

    However, that fact shouln’t allow us to examine the situation completely.

  • From the NBC transcript,

    NBC: We just heard the attorney for the school say in the piece that they had spoken to you about delivering the edited version and you had agreed. Is that true?

    Brittany: I felt that I was sort of backed into a corner between wanting to say what made me successful in high school and what got me through the hard times and got me to where I was as valedictorian and then trying to heed to their authority also, so I felt backed into a corner and I did say that I would.

    Clearly, by Brittany’s own admission she agreed to the editted version. I understand the possibility of the stress in making that decision, and that the school was misapplying the rules, but they editted the speech and she agreed. In the end, for whatever reason she gave her word that she would speak the editted version and then she changed her mind. For the sake of her personal integrity she should have atleast informed them of her decision. She declares that as a Christian she had to speak about who she was. I understand that. But as a Christian she made a commitment not to say something. That has to be taken into account.

    I agree that God is sovereign and He orchestrates the affairs of men. However, that shouldnt’ allow us to examine the situation completely. And that must include the possibility that Brittany also erred as well as the school. Before we look to take the speck out of the schools eye, I believe it is in Brittany’s best interest to examine where she may have failed as well. Pushing a lawsuit, in my opinion will not allow this young lady to understand that she has a personal responsbility to consider. Her decisions have consequences.

  • Spunky: I think we feel similarly about the situation. Here are just a few areas I would seek to clarify on my part:

    First, I don’t think it is correct to say that the McCombs ever agreed to the unjust ruling. On the contrary, they spent an entire month trying to sit down and speak with the school official and the district attorney. The school officials would not discuss it, directing them to contact the district atttorney, and the district attorney never returned their (or their lawyer’s) phone calls requesting a meeting, even after his secretary promised that he would do so.

    Second, the “rules” that apply to this situation (see my comment above) allow for Brittany’s speech. I’m sure that the McComb’s lawyer explained this to them, which is why they repeatedly sought to discuss the matter with the district attorney.

    Finally, I think this is a good time to remember that we serve a sovereign God who orchestrates the affairs of men. Brittany was not seeking to draw media attention. The school officials were definitely not seeking to draw media attention. But in His boundless wisdom, God did. And He worked through the actions of admittedly imperfect people to accomplish that. In fact, I think it is safe to say that the story would not have made national news if it had not culminated the way it did.

  • Alex, I understand what you are saying. From my perspective it isn’t an issue of deception or lying. But of a young person letting their yes be yes and their no be no. Brittany made a commitment and despite the fact that the school officials made it difficult to communicate with them, her commitment remains as it was. She knew the commitment she made. A simple note to the officials letting them know that she was no longer going to honor the commitment due to her calling to a higher authority would have been sufficient. Yes, in doing so she ran the risk of being censored and possibly banned all together. However, that would then allow her to remain true to her convictions, and her word. As it is now, she has remaine true to her convictions but not to her word.

    I have discussed this with quite a few people and they feel similarly. If it were my child I would not be suing them. She had her chance to say what she did. She made her point. Her parents voluntarily placed her under the authority of the school district. They made the rules known to her. Granted, we believe that the ruling may be unjust but they agreed to it. An unjust authority cannot be expected to act justly. They may do so, but the expectation that they must is unfounded. However, as a Christian we should expect that the parents and Brittany act uprightly. And in this case, it would be not to sue. Her free speech was not violated, she voluntarily agreed to give it up.

  • The only reason I am not just overwhelmingly supportive of this whole McComb ordeal because after all she did LIE. No matter how valiant it might appear to mention the things of Christ that she did you can’t get around the fact that she did what she said she would not do. As much as I want to support her my conscience can’t let that one small, yet pivital fact be ignored.

  • I’d just like to let Foothill High School know what a spectacle it made of itself when it unplugged Brittany McComb’s mic. Folks all over the whole nation have watched the school’s distasteful actions against her free speech. But hey in the end. . . the school district’s evil gave Brittany a wider audience than she would have had if they would have let her speak. Likewise, she now has a voice that the school district will never be able to silence. . . and more importantly she has a voice, unlike the school district, that people actually respect and will listen to. The school district had power to cut someones mic., but it will never again have the power to make people listen.

  • Am I the only one that gets this? Congress shall make not law probhiting free speech or concerning the establishment of religion. Even if there is a wall of spearation(and there is not), the freedom of speech supercedes the establishment clause. Amendment 1 then 2 do you think the founding fathers just put those numbers in that order for no reason? No, free speech hs priority over establishment clasue, even through it does not exist.

rebelling against low expectations

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