Illinois High School Prohibits Valedictorian From Mentioning Jesus in Graduation Speech

SCIOTA, Ill. — Officials at an Illinois high school recently prohibited a valedictorian from speaking about Jesus in his graduation speech.

Student Sam Blackledge, 18, told the Todd Starnes Radio Show that he was called to the principal’s office at West Prairie High School last week where it was outlined by school and district officials that he needed to take his religious references out of his speech.

“They said they didn’t want to make it a religious ceremony,” he stated. “They told me that if I took out Christ I could say everything else.”

Blackledge told the officials he wanted to speak from personal experience, but his request was denied. He was informed that his speech might come across as being an endorsement from the school district. Blackledge therefore offered to begin his valedictorian speech with a disclaimer. Officials said no.

“It was terrible. I felt like I wanted to cry. I had basically—for months—I knew I wanted to talk about Christ in my graduation speech,” he stated. “The most important thing in my life is Christ.”

Blackledge says that officials advised him he could deliver his remarks as long as he did not specifically mention Jesus. He agreed to abide by the district’s wishes as he believed that he should respect those in authority.

Blackledge’s speech, which centered on the themes of living “a life devoid of evil, full of justice, full of love, and full of forgiveness,” was supposed to have pointed students to the cross of Christ.

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“I want you to think for a moment: Is there any event in history where these four converged in one place? Where did evil, justice, love and forgiveness converge at a moment in history? Can I take you to a hill called Calvary and show you the person of Jesus Christ?” he was to have asked.

“The cross of Christ shows us our own evil hearts, that we would put an innocent man up to die. Christ came to show us God’s justice in dealing with the unfairness of the world. The cross demonstrates to us the very love of God who died in our place and how we find at the end of the day that without His forgiveness we would never make it,” Blackledge was to have declared.

“The most important thing in your life is to find that intimacy with God. He will guide you, He will hold you, and He will take you through safely in your journey. As you search for goodness, justice, love, and forgiveness, know that only God is big enough to provide that for you.”

In Acts 5:27-29, the Scriptures outline that Peter, who had personally walked with Jesus, and other apostles of the Messiah were similarly forbidden from preaching in the name of Christ. They refused.

“And when they had brought them, they set them before the council, and the high priest asked them, saying, ‘Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? And, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.’ Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, ‘We ought to obey God rather than men.'”

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  • bowie1

    I suppose he could have gone briefly off script before they cut his microphone and mention his faith.

  • Mr Cleats

    I quoted the Bible in mine. No problem. We were a more tolerant and inclusive America back then. People thought the First Amendment meant what it said about freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

    • Susan Perelka

      The masks are slipping and we are seeing what is really there. Hatred for christianity. All the while, they have been telling us how tolerant and loving they are, when in reality they have despised Christ, and have been secretly seeking to silence His people. They have been exposed. Take note of who they are, their agenda is now out in the open, no longer in secret. Remember who they are, come the next election. Parents, pay attention to who they are in the public school system and speak out against it. Pay attention to what colleges are exposed and don’t send your kids there. The masks are off and their true nature is exposed.

  • akagaga

    I believe the real dilemma here is revealed in his words: ““It was terrible. I felt like I wanted to cry. I had basically—for
    months—I knew I wanted to talk about Christ in my graduation speech.”

    For months he visualized himself on the stage, giving a grand speech for Jesus – and suddenly that wasn’t possible. His only choice, then, was to divide that vision in half: either stand on the stage and give a grand speech about whatever, or give up the stage and speak about Jesus where God gave him opportunity.

    With the mercy He’s known for, God may grant him another chance. Peter, after all, denied His Lord three times.

  • master_chief_usn

    If this young man can work up the nerve to confront the administrators, he could give a talk that exposes the ever more prevalent school policies of censoring speech. Today they eliminate Jesus, what will they eliminate tomorrow…Allah (no,) Buddha (no,) Gandhi (no,) Dr. Martin Luther King (it depends,) god (no,) God (yes.)

    • Croquet_Player

      I’m sorry, you seem to have a fundamental misunderstanding of what public school students may, and may not, say in their speeches to the general public. Students have every right to reference their faith. For example: “I am a person of deep faith, which has sustained me, at home and in school. It is the most important thing in my life.” This is perfectly fine to say, and entirely legal. However the student may not go on to give a promotional lecture about their particular faith, or respective deities. Nevertheless, people, living or dead, may be referenced in speeches. Dr Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Shakespeare, Hafez, Lord Nelson, or their next-door neighbor “Bob”, are all perfectly fine. Unless you decide to quote them on their religious views at great length. I understand this may seem too fine a point. But a public high school school graduate may not turn the occasion of their speech into a diatribe, for, or against, any religion in particular, or in general.

      • SkyGirl315

        No, it’s you who has the misunderstanding.

      • Toppy Mc

        Your ideology prevents you from seeing constitutional truth.

  • Robert Armstrong

    Sadly America is no longer the land of the Free. To freely talk about, to exalt and praise the one true God of the Bible. Creator of all things.

  • Maryw

    Every time this comes up people need to speak in Jesus name reguardless.

    • Croquet_Player

      No, I’m afraid not. He may write and publish his speech, on any platform which will have him, of course. He may make copies of it and hand it out to the public anywhere he likes (except on private property where he may either be welcomed, or refused entry). But he cannot turn his public school graduation speech into a promotional lecture for his particular faith. Nor may any other student, of any other faith, or no faith. That’s not how it works.

      • SkyGirl315

        Yes it is how it works. It’s his own personal speech and he has a protected constitutional right to have his faith in his speech.

        • Croquet_Player

          Yes, he may mention his faith in his speech, of course. But he may not turn his valedictorian speech into a one-man promotion of his own particular faith (or indeed, a denigration of any other faith, or no faith) at a public school event. If he’d like to do that, he’s entirely free to do so on private property. Or he can stand in a public park and declaim his views. A good test of this rule is to imagine “What if the young valedictorian was a devout member of another faith (or no faith) from mine?” Surely, they might say, as anyone may, “My faith (or none) is the most important thing in my life.” Well, fair enough. Faith is the most deeply important thing to a great many people. But they may not go on to exclaim how their particular views are the right ones, and everyone else is wrong, and clearly by their own example of academic success, their gods or goddesses, or no faith, are the ones to be followed (or not). Do you see the difference?

      • Toppy Mc

        There are two problems with what you said. Number one, the Constitution nor the nor the Bill of Rights support your position at all. Secondly, I strongly suspect you would not apply that same argument to liberal speakers who want to speak of their deeply held beliefs or nonbeliefs.
        Therefore, your position would silence conservative speakers and prevent anyone from expressing a biblical world view…which is usually the goal of those who embrace the opinion you expressed. Our founding documents allow all arguments to be heard in the public square, which a high school graduation is, so the hearers can choose the better one. The biblical worldview, when presented and understood accurately, is the only choice!

    • james blue

      I read today that valedictorian Christian Bales and student council president Katherine Frantz were told just hours before graduation at Holy Cross High School in Kentucky that they wouldn’t be permitted to give their speeches because they “contained elements that were political and inconsistent with the teaching of the Catholic Church.”

      The speeches included praise for the Parkland shooting survivors for their efforts to pass gun control, calls to remove a Confederate statue from the Kentucky State Capitol, and praise other students who participated in an anti-abortion March for Life.

      Both students gave their speeches outside the event, the video is online, sorry I can’t link to it, this site doesn’t allow links.

      Have a blessed day.

  • Rachel

    One reason we have school shootings. God/Jesus is not welcome at schools.

    • Croquet_Player

      Actually, students have a constitutional right to pray in schools. They may bring religious texts to school, discuss their faith with their friends, wear items such as religious jewelry, and pray as they wish, alone or in groups. They simply can’t be compelled to do it (or not do it) by school authorities. This protects everyone from any undue influence.

  • Rev Harry C Wigmore III

    Brother Sam Blackledge, which is more important to you my friend? What can they do if you stand there and begin your speech: And the HOLY SPIRIT will give you what to say in “such an hour as you think not”. The ANTICHRIST is trying to shut down free speech, but who do we OBEY???? MAN OR GOD!!!!!!!!!!!!
    BE BOLD, Brother Sam, SPEAK FROM THE HEART!!!!!!!
    And if they give you trouble, go to Jay Seklow at American Center for Law and Justice. Have a blessed day Brother Sam Blackledge!!!!

  • james blue

    I read his speech

    There is a fine line between talking about your influences and preaching. This kid crossed to the latter It started off really well then turned into proselytizing.

    • John O

      i see u are still playing god and deciding who is entitled to free speech. easy to know your enemy.

      • james blue

        If it was a Muslim student giving the same speech regarding his faith you’d be up in arms and you know it.

  • Guest✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    I’ll bet they’d let him mention allah.

    • Croquet_Player

      No, that’s illegal too of course. As is any lengthy mention of Vishnu, Buddha, Thor, etc. A student is entirely free to cite their faith during a speech. For example: “I owe all my success to my deep religious faith.” But a student can’t turn a graduation speech into a public promotion of (or a denigration of) religion. It may seem too fine a line for some, but it’s important that it’s there. We are a nation of citizens of many faiths, and no faith. If a student wishes to address their fellow classmates about faith, they are entirely free to invite students to come and hear them speak at their church, or other place of worship, or even a local park. But you can’t turn a public school graduation speech into a religious (or non-religious) diatribe. This protects everyone.

      • Guest✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

        I’ve already shown you cases where this has happened time and again. Islam is being pushed in public schools. It’s only Christianity that is being persecuted against.

        • Croquet_Player

          As I recall, you cited one suit, which was dismissed by the court before it even reached trial. You have not shown me, or anyone else, any evidence of your claims. Again I welcome you to do so. Pushing any religion (or denigrating any religion) in a public school is unconstitutional and illegal. I will support you 100% when you find a genuine case of “Islam” being pushed. In fact, I’m going to go look again, just to be certain. There might be a new case I’m not aware of.

          • Guest✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

            You’re wrong. I cited multiple cases, and the on you claimed was dismissed hasn’t even gone to court yet. You are insincere when you claim your support since you have already been shown ad nauseum that Islam is being pushed in public schools, yet continue to deny it.

          • Croquet_Player

            I beg you to name the cases where Islam is being pushed in public schools. I am, as you are, entirely against it. You cited one dismissed case. Nevermind, let’s hear the other ones! We are entirely together on this topic, you, me, and everyone who is entirely against Islam, in any fashion, being pushed in American public schools. Please help all of us out. I want to know school districts, names of teachers, locations, etc. Any information you have may be helpful.

          • Guest✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

            I already named them. Look through your notifications and you will see them named. Then you will see you said one case was thrown out. It wasn’t. It hasn’t even gone to court yet.

      • Excellent explanation. I was going to post a message very similar, but no need now.

      • Toppy Mc

        I can see you have not read much of what the founding fathers said/wrote nor what is engraved in stone on government buildings in Washington D C. Not to mention all that is inside them as well. What you’re proposing is that we become a secular nation. Our founding fathers established our constitutional REPUBLIC on the Christian faith and the Christian faith alone!

        • Croquet_Player

          Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not “proposing” anything. We’re a nation of many faiths, and no faith. It’s simply that the government must remain neutral where matters of faith (or no faith) are concerned. The founding fathers took particular care in this matter. This actually protects you, and me, and every United States citizen. As you know, there are multiple varieties of differing beliefs, even under the larger heading of “Christian” (And most every other faith as well.) For example, Methodist or Baptist? Is one or another “more” Christian than the other, or does one have the “correct” view of doctrine, and everyone else is “wrong”? Fortunately, the founding fathers spared us these kind of endless arguments. You have a constitutional right to think, and believe whatever you like. And no matter how popular, or unpopular, your views may be, you have the same right to them as everyone else. You also have the same right to housing, jobs, bank accounts, holding government office, voting, serving in the armed forces, and all the other rights and obligations of citizens. What the founding fathers knew only too well is that you cannot impose faith (or lack of it) by government fiat. Makes me proud to be an American.

  • I have no problem with Blackledge’s beliefs, but clearly, he wanted to preach to a captive audience under the auspices of government agents. Certainly Christians would be outraged if a Muslim was allowed to preach about the love of Allah in an official setting and to a captive audience.

    How is it that so many Christians can’t understand the Establishment Clause–the very reason so little religious violence has occurred in the U.S. in the past century?

  • poppyw

    This school needs to be sued for denying First Amendment Right to this excellent young man. Why are the heathen practices, such as this, permitted in tax supported schools?

    • Toppy Mc

      Because taxpayers allow it.

  • It would have been way cool if he still would have said everything leaving the name of Christ out of it. Everyone would have known what he was referring. If he had said Let me take u to a hill called Calvary & went on to witness without saying the name of Christ. That would have been awesome.