Officials at a public school in Michigan have reversed their decision to censor a reference to God from a speech prepared for delivery by the valedictorian of the graduating class.
First Liberty Institute confirmed on Thursday that officials at Hillsdale, Michigan, high school reversed their decision that would have prevented Elizabeth Turner from referencing her faith in her valedictory speech.
“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.”
Turner said, in a statement released by her lawyers, “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.”
Only a day earlier, First Liberty said it had written to the principal insisting that Turner be allowed to delivery her speech as she had prepared it.
“Graduation is a time for celebration not censorship,” said 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.”
The school, requiring a copy of the speech in advance, had highlighted these two paragraphs written by Turner:
For me, my future hope is found in my relationship with Christ. 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.
Whether we want to admit it or not, not one of us can be certain of how our lives will unfold, but we do know that trials will come. The reality of this is that we face an unpredictable future, and while we are making all these plans to prepare, ultimately none of us are promised tomorrow, making it all the more important to make today count.
School officials had warned her, “You are representing the school in the speech, not using the podium as your public forum. 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.”
First Liberty explained the message from the school was that the speech was “on behalf of the school and the school could not make religious statements.”
But, First Liberty said, student graduation speeches “constitute private speech, not government speech, and private speech is not subject to the Establishment Clause.”
The legal team warned the school that, in fact, its edit of Turner’s speech amounted to a violation of federal law.
Turner’s scheduled to deliver the speech at graduation on June 6.
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