.- A graduating student at the University of California at Los Angeles has charged that a department advisor forbade her from saying “I want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” in her graduation speech, prompting the university to say it will allow the student statements to be read “as originally submitted.”
Student Christina Popa backed up her claim by posting on Facebook e-mails showing that other students would be permitted to have their speeches read aloud at a pre-graduation ceremony. Popa’s speech would have been allowed only if she did not mention Jesus. Dr. Pamela Hurley, a student affairs advisor for the Department of Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology, e-mailed Popa’s speech back to her, saying “UCLA is a public university where the doctrine of separation of church and state is observed.”
Prof. Hurley proposed a version of Popa’s speech without the reference to Jesus.
After Popa objected to the proposal, Prof. Hurley replied: “If you prefer, Christina, I can read none of what you wrote. I am very sorry that this is a problem for you.”
Chaplain Gordon James Klingenschmitt, a former Navy chaplain who was disciplined for praying publicly “in Jesus’ name” before being vindicated by Congress, commented on the reported ban.
“Jesus is not an illegal word, and UCLA has no business censoring her speech, especially if they claim to celebrate 'academic freedom,'” he said.
Klingenschmitt accused the professor of misapplying a “twisted idea” of the separation of church and state.
Elizabeth Kivowitz Boatright-Simon of the UCLA Office of Media Relations provided CNA with a statement from the university that said Popa's original word's, including Jesus' name, will be read aloud.
The statement said the reading of “words of wisdom” at the Department of Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology involves graduating students’ submitting a short message to be read onstage by a member of the university administration.
“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 statement said. “The department and the University support the First Amendment and in no way intended to impinge upon any students’ rights.”
“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.”