Judge rules in favor of school district in Butte speech case

Zach Benoit
Billings Gazette

A Yellowstone County District Court judge ruled this week that a former Butte High student’s civil rights were not violated when school district officials wouldn’t allow her to speak at a 2008 graduation ceremony because she refused to take religious references out of her speech.

In a summary judgment issued Wednesday, Judge Gregory Todd said the decision of Butte School District No. 1 to prevent Renee Griffith, a valedictorian of the 2008 graduating class, from speaking at the ceremonies unless she changed references to “God” and “Christ” in her speech did not violate Montana law or the First Amendment.

“The District’s actions in the case were neither taken in response to Griffith’s personal religious beliefs, as has been asserted by Griffith, nor were they unlawfully discriminatory,” Todd wrote.

He went on to say that it follows a school district policy prohibiting religious reference of any kind during graduation speeches and that the policy is applied evenly to all student speakers in an effort to maintain “neutrality toward religion,” as required by the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

“I’m extremely happy that the judge ruled in the school district’s favor,” said Tony Koenig, senior counsel for the Montana School Boards Association, who represented the school district.

The article continues at the Billings Gazette.

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