School district asks speakers to swear an oath to follow pre-approved speech

School district asks speakers to swear an oath to follow pre-approved speech

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A school district in Wisconsin has introduced new guidelines for speakers that require them to submit their speeches beforehand and swear an oath to follow the script.

What happened: In June, Reverend Alvin Dupree gave a religiously-themed speech at North High School's graduation ceremony, telling students that he finds strength through his faith and encouraging them to applaud in agreement. Dupree said they should "never succumb to the pressure of being politically correct" or "another man's norm," and instead of closing his speech with "best wishes," he said, "God bless."

A complaint: The non-profit Freedom From Religion Foundation and a group of  29 students took issue with his "Christian themes" speech and sent a complaint to the district, asking it to come up with a new policy that would ask speakers to send their speech in advance for a review and oblige them not to stray from the approved speech. If they do, their speech should be cut short.

The Appleton Area School District agreed. Appleton schools Superintendent Judy Baseman said: "It comes back to one of the main pillars of our district's strategic plan, which is to provide an inclusive, safe environment for all, while also balancing individual rights. That's critical to our role as a public school and we're confident that these guidelines will accomplish that for our students, families, and staff."

The new rules: Under the new guidelines speakers have to submit their speeches in written form at least two weeks before the event, have to tell the district about the clothing and accessories they plan on wearing that could send a certain message, and promise under oath, in writing, that they will follow the approved script. The district will "take remedial action, in his/her discretion, to address any behavior exhibited by a speaker during his/her speech, as the Superintendent deems necessary or appropriate," reads the document, according to the Appleton Post-Crescent.

Worth noting: The new guidelines are not an official policy and don't need the school board's approval.

Critics: "To me, that is criminal and it's wrong and it doesn't lead to tolerance. I'm not trying to force anyone of any faith or any religion or belief to think as I do — I think everyone should be allowed to freely express who they are as an individual ... I think it's a total disgrace for such procedures to be in place because it has the potential to be used at the sole discretion of one person to discriminate against anyone that doesn't line up with that position," said Dupree.

Anthony LoCoco, a deputy counsel with the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty called it "troubling."

"This often leads to unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination. We're concerned by the guidelines and we're in the process of assessing their constitutionality," he said.

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