Michigan high school reverses after opposing religious language in valedictorian speech


A Michigan high school is reversing its opposition to a valedictorian’s speech after a complaint alleged the principal’s criticism was violating the First Amendment, the student’s attorneys announced. 

On Wednesday, Fox News reported on First Liberty’s legal complaint, which maintained that student Elizabeth Turner would be engaging in private, legally protected speech even though it was set to take place at a public graduation.

By Thursday, the law firm announced that school officials at Hillsdale High School had reversed course. 

“I’m grateful I will be able to share my faith with my classmates, and I pray that God uses this situation to advance His kingdom,” Turner said in a press release.

MICHIGAN HIGH SCHOOL VIOLATES FEDERAL LAW BY OPPOSING LANGUAGE IN GRAD SPEECH: COMPLAINT

Turner’s draft speech read: “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. Whether we want to admit it or not, not one of us can be certain of how our lives will unfold, but we do know that trials will come. The reality of this is that we face an unpredictable future, and while we are making all these plans to prepare, ultimately none of us are promised tomorrow, making it all the more important to make today count.”

A screenshot attached to the letter showed Hillsdale Principal Amy Goldsmith highlighting that portion in a Google doc and urging Turner not to use religious language.

“[Y]ou are representing the school in the speech, not using the podium as your public forum,” said Goldsmith. 

“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.”

On Thursday afternoon, Superintendent Shawn Vondra told Fox News “the school district is committed to the protection and expression of First Amendment-protected content for students.”

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“To be specific, graduation speeches by students may elect to include statements of personal faith and expressions of religious views,” he said.

“The district does not initiate discussion of specific students … Having said that, to the extent any of our speakers are concerned about this important topic, we are working with our staff and students to ensure any concerns are appropriately addressed and students’ rights are supported now and preserved into the future.”

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