Savannah Lefler - Cases - First Liberty

As the Class Scholar for 2021, Ms. Lefler was selected to give a short speech during her school’s Senior Honors Night.  In her speech, she encourages graduates to live a life of purpose, explaining that she believes the purpose of life is “to live a life devoted to Christ.”  After reviewing a draft of Savannah’s speech, Principal Michael Wegher sent an email stating that, “Unfortunately, we are a public educational institution and must legally abide by the 1st Amendment of the US Constitution.  Through past Supreme Court cases, rulings have stated that government institutions, including public schools, cannot favor one religion over any others.  This would include honors speeches since it would be an official communication from the school.”  In a phone call with Savannah, he said the speech was too “Christianized.”

First Liberty Institute has sent a letter to the principal, informing him that he is violating federal law, which permits private religious speech at school events, and demanding that she allow Savannah to reference her faith.

After receiving the letter, school officials reversed their decision.

“We are grateful that Savannah will be allowed to freely express her religious perspective in her remarks,” said Stephanie Taub, Senior Counsel for First Liberty Institute. “Savannah is thrilled that she’ll be able to celebrate with her classmates without being censored.  As we look forward to next year, we encourage other students to stand up for their First Amendment rights.”

Savannah said, “May God be glorified in the situation. 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.

News Release
For Immediate Release: 6.2.21
Contact: Lacey McNiel, media@firstliberty.org
Direct: 972-941-4453

Michigan School Reverses, Will Allow “One-Time” Exception for High School Valedictorian’s Speech
School responded after letter from First Liberty Institute 

Westland, MI—After receiving a letter from First Liberty Institute, school officials at John Glenn High School in Westland, Michigan reversed a decision that prevented Savannah Lefler, a graduating senior, from speaking about her faith in her senior honors night remarks. School officials initially told Savannah to alter her remarks to remove her discussion of her Christian worldview.

“We are grateful that Savannah will be allowed to freely express her religious perspective in her remarks,” said Stephanie Taub, Senior Counsel for First Liberty Institute. “Savannah is thrilled that she’ll be able to celebrate with her classmates without being censored.  As we look forward to next year, we encourage other students to stand up for their First Amendment rights.”

Savannah said, “May God be glorified in the situation. 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 its response, while refusing to concede a legal requirement, the school district said in this case they would allow a “one-time non-negotiable relinquishment of control” in light of the pre-recorded speeches this year and allow Savannah to give her remarks with a disclaimer stating that the speech is not endorsed by the school.

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About First Liberty Institute

First Liberty Institute is the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans.

To arrange an interview, contact Lacey McNiel at media@firstliberty.org or by calling 972-941-4453.


6.1.21 – News Release

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