UCLA allows student to thank Jesus in graduation statement

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LOS ANGELES — Officials from the University of California, Los Angeles, responding from pressure, confirmed that a student could thank Jesus in her personal statement after first saying they would not allow it.

Christina Popa was just 11 days away from graduation when a UCLA administrator tried to censor the use of "Jesus" in her statement. With the rest of her biology class, Christina submitted a short personal statement for her department chair to read aloud as she walked across the stage to get her diploma. These "Words of Wisdom," as the school calls them, could contain "almost anything."

Popa 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 closed with her future career plans.

Dr. Pamela Hurley, student affairs advisor for the Molecular Cell and Developmental Biology Department at UCLA responded in an e-mail that UCLA observes the "separation of church and state," and that instead of reading, 'I want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,' Hurley would only allow, 'First, I want to thank God.'"

When Popa objected, Hurley said the only other option was to read none of Popa's comments at the ceremony.

Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund urged officials in a letter to refrain from violating her free speech rights. Popa, received a voice mail from the school within a few hours that her statement will be read at the commencement ceremony.

"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 Litigation Staff Counsel 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."