A public high school in Michigan has reversed its position following massive public pressure and a letter from a legal group dedicated to free speech and it will allow a Christian valedictorian to reference God in her graduation speech.
As LifeNews reported earlier today, Elizabeth Turner, a high school senior in Michigan, is supposed to be delivering the address to her school by virtue of the honor of being the senior class valedictorian. But administrators at Hillsdale High School told her she can’t include any references to God or her Christian faith.
“For me, my future hope is found in my relationship with Christ,” Hillsdale High School senior Elizabeth Turner wrote in her prepared remarks. “By trusting in him and choosing to live a life dedicated to bringing his kingdom glory, I can be confident that I am living a life with purpose and meaning. My identity is found by what God says and who I want to become is laid out in scripture.”
Amy Goldsmith, principal of the senior high school in the small Michigan city, told Turner that it is “not appropriate” for her to explicitly talk about her faith in Jesus Christ.
Goldsmith, after reviewing the speech, told Turner to “be mindful about the inclusion of religious aspects.”
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“You are representing the school in the speech, not using the podium as your public form,” Goldsmith wrote in a note to the student. “We need to be mindful about the inclusion of religious aspects. These are your strong beliefs, but they are not appropriate for a speech in a school public setting.”
“I know this will frustrate you, but we have to be mindful of it,” the principal continued.
Now, after receiving a letter from First Liberty Institute, school officials reversed their decision.
“We are grateful to school officials for acting swiftly to ensure that religious students can freely exercise their right to express their faith in a graduation speech,” said Keisha Russell, Counsel for First Liberty Institute. “Elizabeth is thrilled that she’ll be able to celebrate her graduation without being censored. We hope that future graduates will be free from religious censorship.”
Elizabeth Turner said, “I’m grateful I will be able to share my faith with my classmates, and I pray that God uses this situation to advance His kingdom.”
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After initially learning she couldn’t reference God, Turner responded by saying that she would not “be able to deliver a genuine speech” under the principal’s guidelines.
Writing at Newsmax, Todd Starnes condemned the principle’s actions.
I wonder if Principal Goldsmith would have censored Turner’s speech had she referenced George Floyd or Black Lives Matter or Gaza?
In my latest book, “Culture Jihad: How to Stop the Left from Killing a Nation,” I urged Americans to stand up to the Cancel Culture mob. And that’s exactly what Turner did.
She reached out to First Liberty Institute, one of the nation’s top religious liberty law firms. And they fired off a letter to the principal warning that the school had violated the U.S. Constitution.
“Graduation is a time for celebration not censorship,” said First Liberty attorney Keisha Russell. “Students retain their constitutional rights to freedom of expression from elementary school all the way through the graduation ceremony. All public schools should protect the private religious expression of their students.”
So, what does the law say?
According to the U.S. Department of Education students or other graduation speakers may not be restricted from referencing religious content or even delivering prayers.
“Hillsdale High School must comply with the law by allowing private student religious expression during graduation,” First Liberty wrote in a letter to Principal Goldsmith. “By doing so, it will teach students that the government should treat religion neutrally.”
First Liberty is calling for the school to allow Turner the constitutional right to express her private religious beliefs at graduation.
ACTION: Thank Principal Amy Goldsmith for backing down by calling 517-439-4320 x 1411 or email [email protected]