UCLA Gives Thankful Student Some Latitude for Gratitude

Inside the Issues with Alan Sears

Alan Sears, Esquire
ADF President, CEO, & General Counsel

June 23, 2009

UCLA student Christina Popa figured Jesus had as much to do with her getting through school as anybody.  More, actually.

So when the student affairs advisor for her department, Molecular Cell and Developmental Biology, sent her and all the other graduates-to-be an e-mail requesting short personal statements that she would read as they crossed the stage to receive their degrees, Christina knew just what she wanted to say.

While the advisor told students to be “considerate” and suggested they not include anything in their statements that was political, derogatory, or “specifically religious,” she also stated that the statement could include “almost anything” and that some of the most memorable had been “fanciful” and even “outrageously wild.”  Many students chose to use their statement to thank their family, friends, and other important people in their lives, as would be appropriate on this momentous occasion.

Christina chose to do the same and opened her proposed statement with, “I want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” before thanking her deceased father and other family members for their encouragement, and closing with her future career plans.  It wasn’t “outrageously wild,” but it was from the heart.

The e-mail she received in reply explained that, because UCLA observes the “separation of church and state,” she would need to replace her specific tribute to “the Lord Jesus Christ” with a more generic reference to “God.”  Christina demurred at that suggestion, at which point the advisor said that none of her remarks would be allowed.

After talking with Christina, lawyers for the Alliance Defense Fund sent the UCLA chancellor a letter urging officials not to violate the young woman’s free speech rights.  Shortly thereafter, the university called Christina to tell her that her original statement would be read verbatim during commencement ceremonies. A few days later, ADF attorneys received a formal letter confirming that decision.

Christian students shouldn’t be silenced when expressing their beliefs at public universities and are entitled to the same rights as all other students,” said ADF attorney Heather Gebelin Hacker. “We are pleased that UCLA officials understand that denying religious liberty to students is a violation of the First Amendment, not a requirement of it. A personal statement at a graduation ceremony is exactly that – personal – and in no way signifies an endorsement of religion by the school. We commend UCLA for acting quickly to protect Ms. Popa’s constitutional rights.”

Please join me in giving thanks for all those students who are graduating this year with a spirit of humility and gratitude to their Lord – and the courage to stand for Him, even against the power of an institution or the environment of fear, intimidation, and disinformation created by the ACLU and its allies.  One of those students was my own daughter, who gave a graduation speech at her high school, giving thanks to God and quoting from His Holy Word.

Join me, too, in praying for all those young people standing for Christ at public schools, colleges, and universities that are less easily persuaded than UCLA and that continue their efforts to silence the voice of Truth on their campuses.