On the heels of a Michigan high school valedictorian being told faith references in her graduation speech are “not appropriate” — and then the principal reversing her position after getting a complaint letter from a law firm — yet another high school in the state decided against carrying out the same move toward censorship after the same law firm complained.
What are the details?
First Liberty Institute sent a Tuesday letter to Michael Wegher — principal of John Glenn High School in Westland — over his attempt to censor the “very Christianized” portion of Savannah Lefler’s speech set to be part of senior honors night, which is scheduled next week.
Lefler’s original speech notes that philosophies espoused by the likes of Plato and Charles Darwin are “wrong” — and then she declares that, “The purpose of life is to live a life devoted to Christ. Westminster Catechism Number One, ‘The Chief Purpose for Which Man is Made is to Glorify God, and to Enjoy Him Forever,'” the letter says.
Wegher told Lefler that her speech needed a “revision” since “we have students and staff who would identify as Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindi, Sikh, Jehovah’s Witnesses, atheist, etc. We must be inclusive and respectful of their beliefs as well,” the letter adds.
First Liberty’s letter informed the principal that “student graduation speeches constitute private speech, not government speech, and private speech is not subject to the Establishment Clause. Contrary to your assertion, Ms. Lefler’s statements do not transform into government speech simply because they are delivered in a public school setting or channel.”
The law firm told Wegher that his actions constitute “violating students’ rights under the Free Speech Clause” and requested that he “allow Ms. Lefler to express her private religious beliefs in her Honors Night speech” by Wednesday.
That was fast
Well, First Liberty said in a news release Wednesday the school’s decision was “reversed” and that Lefler would be allowed to deliver she speech in the way she wanted.
The law firm said while the school district’s response didn’t concede “a legal requirement,” it allows a “one-time non-negotiable relinquishment of control” that lets her give her remarks with a disclaimer stating that the speech is not endorsed by the school.
“May God be glorified in the situation,” Lefler said in reaction to the decision, First Liberty said. “I’m thankful I will be able to share my faith in Christ with my classmates and pray that this never happens to another student in the future.”
But the district doesn’t seem too pleased
According to the Christian Post, the letter from the school district’s attorney told First Liberty that its legal position was “without any merit whatsoever.”
“Nearly half of Ms. Lefler’s draft speech was unmoored from any sort of academic or pedagogical interest related to the School District’s Honors Convocation. Rather, it was an attempt to proselytize at a school-sponsored event, with the School District’s imprimatur,” attorney Kevin T. Sutton wrote, according to the outlet.
Sutton’s letter added, “Indeed, it is not a speech — it is a sermon,” the Christian Post noted.
The outlet added that the draft of Lefler’s speech also said, “Seeing that man is completely unable to achieve perfection, God made a way for us to be reconciled to Him through the perfect life of Jesus Christ, who is God in flesh.”
It also said, “He not only lived perfectly, but he was killed on a cross and took the punishment that humans deserve. Then he rose from the dead three days later, thus vindicating His holiness and divinity. This allows us to fulfill our purpose in glorifying God because we can now stand before Him blameless if we repent and trust in Christ and His finished work. May His name be praised forever!” the Christian Post said.