A second Michigan high school has relented after initially trying to prevent a graduate from sharing her faith in the Lord Jesus Christ during a speech for a senior honors night event.
Last month, First Liberty Institute issued a letter to a first Michigan graduate, whose principal had told her that she could not mention her faith during her speech. The school agreed after being contacted by the religious freedom law firm on the student’s behalf.
On June 1, attorneys from the organization sent a letter to John Glen High school on behalf of the school’s valedictorian, Savannah Lefler, who they say was told by Principal Michael Wegher that her planned speech was too “Christianized.”
In the comments she prepared to give at Senior Honors Night, she pointed to her purpose and faith in Jesus Christ and her chief aim to glorify Him.
In an excerpt shared in First Liberty’s letter to the school administrator, she wrote:
So, what is the goal for our future generation? It ultimately reflects the purpose of life. What is our purpose? The philosopher Plato says that our purpose is to obtain the highest end of knowledge. Charles Darwin claims that it is to be the most fit for survival. Various religions claim that it is to be a good person.
In reflecting on this question, I read a book entitled, “Don’t waste your life.” In it, Rev. Piper recalled a story of an old man weeping, “Oh, how I’ve wasted it!” The man’s remorse is a reflection of his past. He recognizes the folly that his life had become. This is why, students, I want to urge you not to waste your life. Seek the truth. But how is this possible? I’d argue that the philosophies listed above are wrong.
The purpose of life is to live a life devoted to Christ. Westminster Catechism Number One, “The Chief Purpose for Which Man is Made is to Glorify God, and to Enjoy Him Forever.”
On May 24, Lefler received an email from Wegher which read stated that as an official communication on behalf of the school, her speech could not be shown to “favor one religion over any others.”
He also noted that the school has “students and staff who would identify as Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindi, Sikh, Jehovah’s Witness, atheist, etc,” and that “we must be inclusive and respectful of their beliefs as well.”
“I am not opposed to thanking God for the great honor bestowed upon you, but we cannot take the approach that is currently laid out in your speech,” he concluded, adding he looked forward to seeing what she would “come up with” to “honor” their community.
First Liberty argued that the school had no right to censor her personal view, however.
“It is unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination to permit student graduation speeches that discuss various philosophies or worldviews but prohibit a speech that focuses on the student’s own worldview because it is religious,” the group wrote in a statement.
In response, CBN News reported, the school agreed to a “one-time non-negotiable relinquishment of control” over the content of the graduate’s comments, which would also include a disclaimer clarifying her speech was not endorsed by John Glen High School.
Lefler was “thrilled that she’ll be able to celebrate with her classmates without being censored,” First Liberty Stephanie Taub said. “As we look forward to next year, we encourage other students to stand up for their First Amendment rights.”
“How many more graduations have to be ruined before school officials learn that the First Amendment guards student remarks at graduation?” the attorney also asked. “The Constitution protects students from having their religious viewpoint canceled during a graduation speech. We urge Wayne-Westland Community school officials to follow the law and allow student religious speech at graduation-related events.”
“May God be glorified in the situation,” Lefler said. “I’m thankful I will be able to share my faith in Christ with my classmates and pray that this never happens to another student in the future.”
In May, First Liberty also saw fit that Hillsdale High School graduate Elizabeth Turner was also free to share her faith during a commencement address.
Turner was also “thrilled,” according to the organization, and said that she was “grateful I will be able to share my faith with my classmates, and I pray that God uses this situation to advance His kingdom.”
Praise the Lord for these attorneys who are committed to protecting students’ rights, and these young, studious soldiers for Christ who were so determined to glorify God as they celebrate the commencement of their high school years.
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