A high school student in the state of Michigan was told by her principal that she had to remove any and all religious references that she had included in her valedictorian speech that she was expected to deliver come June 6.
“For me, my future hope is found in my relationship with Christ,” Hillsdale High School senior Elizabeth Turner stated in her address.
“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,” she said.
Principal Amy Goldsmith took a gander at Turner’s address and told her to be “mindful about the inclusion of religious aspects.”
“You are representing the school in the speech, not using the podium as your public form,” Goldsmith stated in a note that was addressed 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 added.
Turner responded by saying that she would not “be able to deliver a genuine speech” under the principal’s guidelines.
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,” Keisha Russell, an attorney for First Liberty said, adding, “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 question to ask now is what the law actually says?
Well, according to the U.S. Department of Education, which technically shouldn’t exist and should be abolished ASAP as the federal government has no right to be involved in education, states that students or other graduation speakers are not to be restricted from referencing religious content or from prayer.
“Hillsdale High School must comply with the law by allowing private student religious expression during graduation,” First Liberty said in a letter response to Principal Goldsmith. “By doing so, it will teach students that the government should treat religion neutrally.”
First Liberty is now asking for the school to allow Turner the right to express her own privately held religious beliefs at the school’s graduation.
“Too often, we have seen well-meaning school officials who think they are complying with the Establishment Clause mistakenly go too far and censor the private speech of students, violating students’ rights under the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses,” the organization wrote.