The Constitution of the United States of America ensures the right to free speech. A clause in the First Amendment prohibits the government from establishing a religion.
High schooler Elizabeth Turner was correct on the former while her principal was seemingly wholly confused on application of the latter. And with the help of the First Liberty Institute, Turner is now able to stand in front of her peer at Hillsdale High School in Michigan and deliver her valedictorian speech that expresses her faith in Jesus Christ.
Turner had given Hillsdale school principal Amy Goldsmith a draft of her speech which included the lines, “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.”
Last week, Goldsmith responded in letter form to Turner’s speech stating, “…you are 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. 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.’ Upon receiving that feedback, Turner wrote to Goldsmith saying she would not be able to deliver the speech without referring to her Christian faith. After some back and forth between student and principal, the final exchange included this comment from Goldsmith: “While there is a degree of freedom to the content of your speech, there are also considerations of what the content and message should be at a commencement celebration and its appropriateness for the audience.’
Turner then brought the intention to First Liberty Institute. After careful study of the interactions between Turner and Goldsmith, First Liberty deduced that Goldsmith was trying to infer that Turner’s speech would be in violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. But it was clear to First Liberty that Turner’s valedictorian expression from the podium would be private speech, not government speech.
The school has since announced that Turner will be able to deliver her valedictorian speech in its entirety. And that includes this line: “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.”