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Breaking: Michigan School Censors Religious References in Student’s High School Graduation Speech

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May 26, 2021

News Release
For Immediate Release: 5.26.21
Contact: Lacey McNiel, media@firstliberty.org
Direct: 972-941-4453

Michigan School Censors Religious References in Student’s High School Graduation Speech
School principal demands high school valedictorian remove references to faith from graduation address

Hillsdale, MI— Today, First Liberty Institute sent a letter to the principal at Hillsdale (MI) High School demanding that she allow a graduating senior, Elizabeth Turner, to reference her faith in her valedictorian speech.  School officials have told Elizabeth to alter her valedictory speech to remove any reference to her religious viewpoint.

You can read the letter, here.

“Graduation is a time for celebration not censorship,” said Keisha Russell, Counsel for First Liberty Institute. “Students retain their constitutional rights to freedom of expression from elementary school all the way through the graduation ceremony.  All public schools should protect the private religious expression of their students.”

Elizabeth is one of the valedictorians speaking at graduation on June 6th. In one section of her speech, Elizabeth references her faith saying, “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.”  After reviewing Elizabeth’s speech, the school’s principal, Amy Goldsmith, highlighted these two paragraphs and told Elizabeth, “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.”

In its letter to school officials, First Liberty says, “Student graduation speeches constitute private speech, not government speech, and private speech is not subject to the Establishment Clause. Contrary to your statements that religious sentiments are ‘not appropriate for a speech in a school public setting,’ Elizabeth’s statements do not transform into government speech simply because they are delivered in a public setting or to a public audience.”  The letter explains that the principal is violating federal law, which permits private religious speech at school events.

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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.

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