Features

Speaking her mind

"Speaking her mind" Continued...

Issue: "Stealth care," Sept. 16, 2006

The daughter of a homemaker and a commercial construction contractor, McComb professed faith in Christ at age 7. She had always been bright and energetic, her mom Connie told WORLD, but soon she became driven. "Brittany was always a real achiever," Mrs. McComb said. "She always strived hard for success."

For example, she excelled in music and made the National Swim Team, consistently placing in the top 10 percent in the country. "I thought that was insignificant because I didn't place first, second, or third," McComb said.

In school, she aced all her classes but was frustrated when she was not invited to an important math competition. When she placed second in a photo competition, "that wasn't good enough," said McComb, who is majoring in journalism at Biola. She grew to dislike swimming but kept doing it because she was concerned about her body image and wanted to keep her weight down. "Anything I did, even if I didn't like doing it, I would do it passionately because I was so competitive. I was a perfectionist. I was frustrated when I did not do everything perfectly right."

McComb talked through the problem with her parents and Christian friends, and even sought out a Christian counselor. Still, she struggled with who she was as a human being. If she gave up striving, if she weren't known for her achievements, who was she?

Fulfillment eluded her. "Nothing the world offered could give Brittany feelings of success," Connie McComb said. "She began struggling with depression, never feeling adequate, striving but always falling short of the mark. She was dying inside."

Then one day in her sophomore year, she says she "let Him take over every aspect of my life and decided that only by doing His will would I be successful." Supported by her parents, McComb quit swimming. "The moment I quit, a huge burden lifted off my shoulders," she said. "Quitting swimming marked the time I stopped trying to be perfect on my own merit." Instead, she relied on the merit of Christ.

That was the critical point she hoped to make in her graduation speech. After the speech, commentators were quick to note that McComb had created a forum for herself by "breaking the rules." Foothill High School teacher Karen Vaughn also weighed in with a letter to the editor in which she wrote that since McComb agreed to give the school's version of the speech, she had broken a "promise" when she didn't; this amounted to "lying" and "dishonorable" behavior.

On this point, McComb bristles: "I was standing up for what I believe in," she told WORLD. "I am not a rebel. I have never been a rebel. I have always been one to uphold the standards of the school, to respect my elders, to respect authority. But when you tell me I can't be who I am, that's when I have to take a stand."

Media attention has cycled down since June. But the lawsuit against the district is moving ahead. McCombs' complaint demands a jury trial and alleges five causes of action including violations of her rights to free speech, equal protection, and free exercise of religion. Rutherford Institute chief counsel John Whitehead said the suit will challenge head-on a troubling development in First Amendment jurisprudence known as "government speech." The doctrine, now more frequently in use by the courts, holds that if speech occurs on government property, it is not constitutionally protected.

With the suit likely to drag on for years, McComb said it is already affecting her future. As an aspiring journalist, she said she values her experience this summer as an interviewee: "I'm getting more excited, feeling like God really is calling me. I realize that I can make a difference."

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