Elizabeth Turner, a Christian valedictorian at a Michigan high school, will now be permitted to mention her faith in her graduation speech following the school principal receiving a complaint letter from a law firm on Wednesday.
First Liberty Institute stated on their website: “Victory: Michigan High School Student No Longer Censored.” Hillsdale High School reportedly reversed the decision to block Turner from referencing her faith at graduation.
“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,” Keisha Russell, Counsel for First Liberty Institute, said in a statement. “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 is excited that she will be able to profess her faith on one of the most important days of her life and remarked that she is “grateful I will be able to share my faith with my classmates, and I pray that God uses this situation to advance His kingdom.”
(Video Credit: Newsmax TV)
“Graduation is a time for celebration, not censorship,” First Liberty Institute Counsel Russell said in a statement. “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.”
VICTORY! » Michigan School reverses decision that prevented Elizabeth Turner, a graduating senior, from referencing her faith in her valedictory speech. This comes just days after school officials told her to remove any religious references. https://t.co/cH5X9MccbE pic.twitter.com/QUtTn1CWnX
— First Liberty Institute (@1stLiberty) May 28, 2021
The portion of Turner’s speech that drew the ire of the principal proclaimed: “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.”
The school’s principal, Amy Goldsmith, highlighted that portion of the speech and a second paragraph. Then she told Turner that “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.”
The reaction prompted Turner to contact First Liberty. The law firm proceeded to send a letter to Goldsmith informing her that she’s “violating federal law, which permits private religious speech at school events,” and demanded that she “allow Elizabeth to reference her faith.”
— Conservative News (@BIZPACReview) May 28, 2021
The law firm also pointed out that student graduation speeches constitute private speech, not government speech. They wrote that private speech is not subject to the Establishment Clause and noted that Turner’s statements “do not transform into government speech simply because they are delivered in a public setting or to a public audience.”
The letter demanded that the principal “allow Elizabeth Turner to express her private religious beliefs at the graduation ceremony on June 6, 2021. Please confirm that you agree to our request by Friday, May 28, 2021 at 5PM.”
Possibly fearing a lawsuit and nasty media attention, following that communication, the principal backed down and gave Turner permission to mention her faith during graduation.
“Currently I’m just finishing drafting my speech,” Turner told Newsmax TV’s “Spicer & Co.” on Thursday. I’m really pleased. I am able to present it on June 6th, and I’m just really grateful for all the help that First Liberty has given us so far.”
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