Religion in Society

Facebook Campaign Helps UCLA Student Thank Jesus at Graduation

| by FRC

The University of California in Los Angeles has responded to media
pressure and agreed to allow a graduating student to thank Jesus in her
personal statement.

UCLA student Christina Popa claimed the school's Department of
Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology was denying her freedom of
speech when she was told by Pamela Hurley, a faculty adviser, that she
would not be allowed to mention "Jesus" in her graduation remarks.

The adviser had told Popa in an e-mail exchanges this week that it
was against the MCDB's department policy to allow specific religious
references based on the principle of separation of church and state.

Hurley, the person selected to read aloud students' personal
statements at the department's commencement, informed Popa that she
would instead read the reference to "my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ"
as simply "God."

In response, Popa launched campaign on Facebook that received the support of 1,500 people in a matter of days.

Gordon Klingenschmitt, the former Navy chaplain who was fired over a
dispute involving a public prayer he gave in Jesus' name, also rallied
behind the UCLA student. He created an online petition asking
UCLA officials to allow Popa to mention "Jesus" in her "Words of
Wisdom" statement and issued a press release on the matter, which he
then sent the university's chancellor and provost.

On Friday, a UCLA spokesperson sent Klingenschmitt a statement
saying that the school had reviewed its procedures and would read the
statements as originally submitted by the students.

"The reading of 'words of wisdom' at the UCLA Department of
Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology involves graduating students'
submission of a short message to be read onstage at Commencement by a
member of the University Administration," read UCLA's statement.
"Because the reading is by the University, not the students, to avoid
the appearance that the University was advocating one religion over the
other, guidelines were established so that messages would not include
references to particular religions."

"The department and the University support the First Amendment and
in no way intended to impinge upon any students' rights," continued the
statement.

"Thus, upon review, and recognizing that the intent of the ceremony
is for all students to have a chance to say something at graduation,
the department will continue to make clear to the audience that the
statements are the personal statements of each student and will read
statements as originally submitted by the students."

Klingenschmitt welcomed the UCLA's response, saying media pressure helped them come to their senses.

"If the university has indeed repented and will read Christina's
statement as originally submitted, then this is a great victory for
religious liberty," Klingenschmitt told The Christian Post on Saturday.

"It proves that we don't always have to go to court and sometimes
just a little media pressure can force administrators to recant from
their anti-Christian policies," the former Navy chaplain stated.

He said only one question remains: "Will Hurley obey her superiors and read the words as originally submitted?"
According e-mail exchanges with Popa, Hurley had objected to the
"Jesus" reference, citing the "sheer diversity of religious beliefs" of
people at the school and saying she was uncomfortable with reading such
a reference at the commencement.

Popa, however, responded that university meant "unity among diversity."

"It makes me very sad that my freedom of speech would be censored
when it comes to my beliefs," Popa wrote in a reply e-mail to Hurley.
"The fact that I cannot thank Jesus (or someone from another religion)
because of school policy shows me that UCLA officials do not understand
what diversity and respect really means."

In the last e-mail Hurley sent to Popa, according to the Facebook
posting, the faculty adviser stated the department's policy and the
Official Words of Wisdom Disclaimer before capping off with this retort:

"If you prefer, Christina, I can read none of what you wrote."

Hurley did not immediately respond to a request by The Christian Post for comment.

While things have worked out for Popa, a former Colorado high school
student who has been fighting a legal battle to defend her right to
invoke Jesus during a 2006 graduation speech was not so fortunate.

On May 29, a federal appeals court dismissed Erica Corder's claims
that high school officials violated her free-speech rights by screening
her graduation speech and forcing her to issue a formal apology after
tweaking her valedictorian speech to include mention of Jesus.

Liberty Counsel, which is representing Corder in the case, plans to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

"No high school or college graduate should have to renounce Jesus
Christ as a price of their high school or college diploma," said
Klingenschmitt, who actively defends public prayers in Jesus' name. "Jesus is not an illegal word. We should not be ashamed to speak his name in public.

"For any government to demand that we apologize for speaking the
name of Jesus is to impose their illegal nonsectarian religion upon
us," he added. "They are shoving their nonsectarian religion down our
throats, not the other way around."

According to UCLA's Commencement Web site, the Molecular, Cell,
& Developmental Biology Graduation will take place Saturday, June
13, starting at 9:00 a.m.

Popa originally wanted the following statement read: "'I want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I also want to
thank my father who passed away 3 years ago, for teaching me to always
do my best and thus motivating me to pursue the sciences. I want to
thank my mother for supporting me in school as well as my sisters and
brother for encouraging me and my friends for making college fun.' I
plan to work in a research lab or become a dietician."