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UPDATE: High School Valedictorian Wins a Victory for Religious Rights

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Source: Facebook

UPDATED June 3, 2021: A high school in Hillsdale, Mich., that was preventing valedictorian Elizabeth Turner from mentioning her faith in Jesus in her graduation speech has backed off. Following a letter from law firm First Liberty Institute, officials with Hillsdale High School decided to allow Turner to mention her religious beliefs at her graduation ceremony.

“We are grateful to school officials for acting swiftly to ensure that religious students can freely exercise their right to express their faith in a graduation speech,” said Keisha Russell, Counsel for First Liberty Institute, in a news release on May 27. Russell, along with First Liberty’s Mike Berry, was responsible for sending a letter to Hillsdale Principal Amy Goldsmith, requesting that she stop limiting Turner’s religious expression.

“Elizabeth is thrilled that she’ll be able to celebrate her graduation without being censored,” said Russell. “We hope that future graduates will be free from religious censorship.”

“I’m grateful I will be able to share my faith with my classmates,” said Turner, “and I pray that God uses this situation to advance His kingdom.”

ChurchLeaders original article written on May 27, 2021, below.

High school valedictorian Elizabeth Turner has been told by her principal, Amy Goldsmith, that she cannot mention her faith in Jesus—or death—in her graduation speech, set to take place on June 6. First Liberty Institute has sent a letter to Goldsmith, informing the principal that she is violating federal law by limiting Turner’s religious expression.

“Too often, we have seen well-meaning school officials who think they are complying with the Establishment Clause mistakenly go too far and censor the private speech of students, violating students’ rights under the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses,” said First Liberty, which describes itself as “the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious liberty for all Americans.” 

Attorneys Mike Berry and Keisha Russell said, “We request that you allow Elizabeth Turner to express her private religious beliefs at the graduation ceremony on June 6, 2021. Please confirm that you agree to our request by Friday, May 28, 2021 at 5PM.

Elizabeth Turner: My Hope Is in Christ

Elizabeth Turner attends Hillsdale High School in Hillsdale, Mich. In a draft of her speech submitted to Goldsmith for review, Turner wrote:

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. 

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 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.

A valued author of mine Elisabeth Elliot once said this: There is nothing worth living for unless it’s worth dying for.”

We have one life to live, so make it a good one.

In a Google doc where she commented on the first two paragraphs above, Goldsmith wrote, “This is better and you fixed the language, but 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.” Goldsmith also took issue with Turner mentioning the inevitability of death.