Reversal: Michigan School Allows Valedictorian to Reference Faith in Speech

Students throw their mortarboards in the air during their graduation photograph at the University of Birmingham degree congregations on July 14, 2009 in Birmingham, England.
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School officials at a Michigan high school have reversed course and allowed the valedictorian to reference her faith in her graduation address in the wake of a letter First Liberty Institute sent to the school principal.

The legal organization that primarily defends religious liberty announced Thursday Hillsdale High School reversed its decision that blocked senior valedictorian Elizabeth Turner from making a reference to the significance of her faith in Jesus Christ in her address.

“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”:

“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,” added Turner.

First Liberty sent a letter Wednesday to Hillsdale High School’s principal, Amy Goldsmith, warning her against attempting to “censor the religious expression in Ms. Turner’s graduation speech.”

After a review of Turner’s draft address, Goldsmith informed the senior that speaking about her faith is “not appropriate for a speech in a school public setting.”

First Liberty, however, noted in its legal analysis that “student graduation speeches constitute private speech, not government speech, and private speech is not subject to the Establishment Clause.”

The law organization added:

Contrary to your statements that religious sentiments are “not appropriate for a speech in a school public setting,” Ms. Turner’s statements do not transform into government speech simply because they are delivered in a public setting or to a public audience.

Russell wrote at First Liberty that some schools use graduation “as an opportunity to advance the prevailing cancel culture by censoring graduation speeches and scrubbing them of any religious references.”

“Right now, it is vital that religious freedom thrive in our schools where the next generation of leaders are bred,” she asserted.

“This graduation season, we encourage students all across the country to celebrate embarking on their new journey in life by rejoicing in the religious freedom we have in America,” Russell concluded.

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