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Michigan principal tells valedictorian that she cannot make Christian remarks in graduation speech


The valedictorian of a high school in Michigan claims her principal prevented her from including comments about her belief in Jesus Christ during her graduation speech in June, it has been revealed.

The conservative legal nonprofit First Liberty has sent a letter on behalf of Hillsdale High School senior Elizabeth Turner to principal Amy Goldsmith demanding that she agrees to let the teen ‘express her private religious beliefs’ by Friday. 

The letter claims Goldsmith engaged in ‘unconstitutional censorship’ when she allegedly commented when editing the speech that Turner was ‘representing the school’ – and so would violate the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.  

First Liberty argues in the letter that Turner’s speech is not subject to the Establishment Clause because it constitutes private speech, not government speech – and so she should be allowed to give her speech as written in her first draft.

Hillsdale High School principal Amy Goldsmith, left, allegedly attempted to censor Elizabeth Turner, right, who had included comments about her belief in Jesus Christ in the first draft of her graduation speech

The Hillsdale High School, where Turner is the valedictorian, is pictured in Google Street View

The Hillsdale High School, where Turner is the valedictorian, is pictured in Google Street View

‘Ms. Turner’s statements do not transform into government speech simply because they are delivered in a public setting or to a public audience,’ the letter reads. 

The law group attached evidence exhibits in the letter, including a screenshot of the first draft of Turner’s speech at issue.

‘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,’ Turner wrote.

‘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.’

She continued: ‘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.’ 

The screenshot of the speech, which was edited using track changes features in Google Docs, also shows the alleged comments from the principal.

‘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,’ the principal allegedly wrote.

‘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.’

The conservative legal nonprofit First Liberty has sent a letter on behalf of Hillsdale High School senior Elizabeth Turner to principal Amy Goldsmith

The conservative legal nonprofit First Liberty has sent a letter on behalf of Hillsdale High School senior Elizabeth Turner to principal Amy Goldsmith

The letter included screenshots of the first draft of Turner's speech ahead of the graduation ceremony in June

The letter included screenshots of the first draft of Turner’s speech ahead of the graduation ceremony in June

The letter also included screenshots of emails between Turner and Goldsmith

The letter also included screenshots of emails between Turner and Goldsmith

The law group tweeted about the sending the letter to the principal

The law group tweeted about the sending the letter to the principal

After receiving the comments from Goldsmith, Turner allegedly sent an email to her principal appearing to tell her she would not give the speech if she could not include the references to her Christian faith.

‘I read your comments and unfortunately I don’t think I would be able to deliver a genuine speech under those circumstances. I don’t agree that we should avoid the topic of tragedy and death because that is a part of everyone’s future,’ she wrote.

Principal Goldsmith is seen in an undated photo

Principal Goldsmith is seen in an undated photo

She added: ‘For me, 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.’

The back-and-forth over parts of the speech involving ‘tragedy and death’ was not immediately clear as the letter and supporting exhibits did not mention them.

Goldsmith then responded in an email to Turner that continued to argue about the ‘appropriateness’ of the speech. 

‘I think one can call for a life of purpose without overtly using the words death and tragedy,’ Goldsmith wrote.

‘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.’

She added: ‘When crafting a speech, it is important to consider purpose and audience. Your speech has a good thesis, it’s the connotations of the words that you can avoid.’

That email response from Goldsmith was forwarded to First Liberty by Turner’s father, Dave Turner – the lead pastor of Hillsdale Free Methodist Church.

DailyMail.com has reached out to Dave Turner for more information and additional comment.



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