UPDATE: Michigan School to Stop Censoring Elders’ References to Jesus in Graduation Speech

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UPDATE (5/28/21):

The Michigan high school principal who censored a graduate’s farewell speech because of her Christian faith reversed the course, according to the religious freedom law firm representing the student.

In a press release issued Thursday evening, the First Liberty Institute said Hillsdale High School announced it would allow Elizabeth Turner to speak about her Christian faith during her speech next month.

“We are grateful to the school officials for moving quickly to ensure that religious students can freely exercise their right to express their faith in a graduation speech,” said First Liberty attorney Keisha. Russell. “Elizabeth is thrilled to be able to celebrate her graduation without being censored. We hope that future graduates will be freed from religious censorship.

Turner, for her part, said she was “grateful to be able to share my faith with my classmates, and I pray that God will use this situation to advance his kingdom.”

THE ORIGINAL STORY continues below:

Elizabeth Turner, a high school student from Michigan, is expected to deliver her school’s farewell speech. But administrators now tell her that she cannot include any reference to her Christian faith.

Amy Goldsmith, principal of Hillsdale High School, told Turner via a note on a Google document of the senior’s speech that it was “not appropriate” for her to speak explicitly about her faith in Jesus Christ. .

Screenshots of the project were shared with Faithwire on Wednesday by First Liberty, the religious freedom law firm representing Turner.

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Goldsmith’s criticism was directed against the following section of the student prepared remarks:

For me, my future hope in my relationship with Christ. By trusting him and choosing to live a life dedicated to the glory of his kingdom, I can be sure 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 set out in the scriptures.

Whether we want to admit it or not, none of us can be sure how our lives will turn out, but we know that trials will come. The reality is that we face an unpredictable future, and while we make all of these plans to prepare ourselves, ultimately none of us are promised tomorrow, which makes it all the more important to do so that today matters.

The principal said Turner could not deliver her speech as it is written because she “represents the school in the speech, and does not use the podium as a public forum.”

“We have to be careful about including religious aspects,” Goldsmith added. “These are your strong beliefs, but they are not appropriate for a speech in a public place. I know this will frustrate you, but we need to be careful about it. “

In a separate email, Goldsmith called out Turner for adding “more religious content and an emphasis on the nature of death,” which she said was problematic.

“I don’t agree that we should avoid the subject of tragedy and death because it is part of everyone’s future,” Turner replied. “I understand what you are saying, but for me, this is the time for my peers to assess our lives and choose how we want to live because we are not promised tomorrow, and I do not want to write a speech that does not will not be meaningful to just check the box.

“For me,” she added, “my personal future rests on my faith, and I also want the freedom to be able to talk about it in my speech if the opportunity arises.”

In their letter to the school, First Liberty attorneys Mike Berry and Keisha Russell claimed that Turner’s farewell speech was a private and legally protected speech.

“Student graduation speeches are a private speech, not a government speech,” they said. “And private speech is not subject to the establishment clause.”

Lawyers for First Liberty argued that Goldsmith’s reviews violated US Department of Education guidelines released in January 2020 which state that “student expression is not attributable to school and therefore cannot be restricted because of its religious (or anti-religious) content and may include prayer ”.

“Graduation is a time of celebration, not censorship,” said Russell. “Students retain their constitutional rights to freedom of expression from elementary school until graduation ceremony. All public schools should protect the private religious expression of their students. ”

Faithwire has contacted Goldsmith for comment.


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