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Principal Amy Goldsmith and senior Elizabeth Turner. Photo: Facebook.

‘Jesus’ banned from high school graduation speech

Any references to the Christian faith are banned from graduation speeches at a Michigan high school this week.

Elizabeth Turner is scheduled to deliver her Hillsdale High School valedictory speech but she’s been told by administrators she needs to watch what she says.

The senior received a note in a Google Docs conversation with principal Amy Goldsmith that it is “not appropriate” for her to explicitly talk about her faith in Jesus.

First Liberty, the religious freedom law firm representing Turner, says the letter engaged in ‘unconstitutional censorship’ when she allegedly commented the student would violate the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The legal firm has released screenshots of the speech.

The school had a problem with the following section of the speech:

For me, my future hope 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 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.

The principal told the student she is “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,” Goldsmith added. “These are your strong beliefs, but they are not appropriate for a speech in a public setting. I know this will frustrate you, but we have to be mindful of it.”

Goldsmith wrote that the “death nature,” of the speech was a big  problem.

Turner replied saying that’s a hard topic to avoid.

“I don’t agree that we should avoid the topic of tragedy and death because that is part of everyone’s future,” replied Turner. “I understand what you are saying, but for me, this is a time for my peers to evaluate our lives and to choose how we want to live since we’re not promised tomorrow, and I don’t want to write a speech that won’t be meaningful just to check off the box.”

“For me,” she added, “my personal future relies on my faith, and I also want the freedom to be able to address that in my speech if the opportunity arises.”

In their letter to the school, First Liberty lawyers Mike Berry and Keisha Russell argued Turner’s valedictory address is private and legally protected speech.

“Student graduation speeches constitute private speech, not government speech,” they said. “And private speech is not subject to the Establishment Clause.”

First Liberty attorneys argued Goldsmith’s critiques violate U.S. Department of Education guidance issued in January 2020 that states student “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.”

“Graduation is a time for celebration not censorship,” Russell said. “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.”

–Wire services and Faithwire