School retreats, valedictorian gets the victory

Friday, May 28, 2021
 | 
Chris Woodward (OneNewsNow.com)

graduation + BibleAfter hearing from a legal group that defends religious freedom, a high school in Michigan has reversed its position on a graduation speech that contains references to the Christian faith.

First Liberty Institute reported on Wednesday that officials at Hillsdale High School in Hillsdale, Michigan, told one of its valedictorians that she needed to remove from her speech any reference to her religious viewpoint. The school's principal had asked Elizabeth Turner to remove those references found in two paragraphs of the speech. Things have now been righted, says First Liberty attorney Stephanie Taub.

"We met with school officials [Thursday] and we are happy to announce that the school has reversed its position and will now allow students to talk about their personal faith if they choose to do so," says Taub, whose law firm is representing the graduating senior.

For her valedictorian speech, Turner wants to talk about her personal faith in God and how that is where she finds purpose and meaning.

Taub

"The school's principal told her that she had to censor all religious content," Taub explains. "[The principal] said that including religious aspects in her speech was 'not appropriate in a public school setting.'"

That, said Taub, isn't legal. "Student valedictorian speeches are the private speech of the students, and so schools cannot censor these religious viewpoints," Taub argues. "Graduation should be a time for celebration, not for censorship."

Shawn Vondra, superintendent of Hillsdale Community Schools, sent this statement to One News Now:

"Hillsdale Schools is an exceptional school district, with plans on having an exceptional high school graduation ceremony in spite of the many challenges faced throughout this school year.

"In regards to recent concerns raised about graduation speech content, the school district is committed to the protection and expression of First Amendment-protected content for students. To be specific, graduation speeches by students may elect to include statements of personal faith and expressions of religious views.

"The district does not initiate discussion of specific students, even those that may appear in the press. 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."

Turner is set to graduate on June 6. "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," the student said in a statement to One News Now.

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