Administrators at a high school in Sciota, Illinois, allegedly told the valedictorian to remove all references to Jesus minutes before he was scheduled to go on stage and deliver his graduation speech, WBBM-TV reported.
Sam Blackledge, 18, told the TV station he knows that others might disagree, but he believes “this is the truth. It’s impacted my life and I wanted to share the hope of Christ with others.”
What did his speech say?
The speech Blackledge prepared to give before his classmates at West Prairie High School centered on “evil, justice, love, and forgiveness,” the TV station reported. He connected each of these things to his faith. Part of Blackledge's speech read:
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? 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 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.
Administrators allegedly first told Blackledge to refrain from making any speech, according to reports. But after his attorney contacted the school, Blackledge was given permission to do a “generic” speech with no religious context.
Was his free speech violated?
Blackledge’s attorney believes his client’s free speech rights were violated, according to published reports.
“The most important thing in my life is Christ,” Blackledge told the Kansas City Star. “Christ is the only reason I was a valedictorian. He’s the reason I got that 4.0. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be up there. I was giving Him the credit for that.”
Blackledge told media that many people in his community have reached out to show their support.
"Even people I don't know and never have seen before, they come up to me and ask me if I'm the kid that this happened to," Blackledge said. "Then, they say I'm standing behind you, and I really appreciate all the support."
The school district declined to comment on the ongoing legal matter, reports state.