High school senior Elizabeth Turner has a constitutional right to free speech at her high school graduation, but it was not without the aid of the First Liberty Institute that she managed to get her school principal to agree, it appears.
According to First Liberty, principal Amy Goldsmith of Hillsdale High School in Michigan, where Turner is soon set to graduate, initially told the valedictorian that it would not be appropriate for her to mention her faith in Christ during her speech, as Faithwire reported.
“For me, my future hope in my relationship with Christ,” a draft of her speech read. “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.”
In a note in the Google Docs draft of Turner’s address, Goldsmith warned the senior it was “not appropriate” for her to discuss her religious convictions.
According to First Liberty, the school administrator claimed that Turner was “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.”
BREAKING: Today, we sent a letter to the principal at Hillsdale High School demanding that she allow a graduating senior, Elizabeth Turner, reference her faith in her valedictorian speech. LEARN MORE » https://t.co/cH5X9MccbE pic.twitter.com/877ogwJk61
— First Liberty Institute (@1stLiberty) May 27, 2021
However, the student’s attorneys argued that Goldsmith’s attempted censorship of the young woman stand against guidance issued in January 2020 by the U.S. Department of Education which states that “expression is not attributable to the school and therefore may not be restricted because of its religious (or anti-religious) content and may include prayer.”
“Student graduation speeches constitute private speech, not government speech,” First Liberty lawyers Mike Berry and Keisha Russell wrote in a letter to the school.
“And private speech is not subject to the Establishment Clause,” the explained.
On Thursday evening, First Liberty announced that the school had decided they would permit Turner to address her personal faith during her speech.
Of course, it is not up to them to allow the young student to exercise her First Amendment right in a publicly funded institution — they’ve simply decided not to try to actively suppress this right.
It was, however, the right choice, and First Liberty graciously applauded the decision.
“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,” First Liberty attorney Keisha Russell said. “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.”
As for this studious and faithful young woman herself, Turner 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.”
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