A school in Michigan has allowed a valedictorian to deliver her speech uncensored after arguments over its substantially religious content.
Graduating at the top of her class, Savannah Lefler is set to address the Honors Convocation Ceremony at John Glenn High School (JGHS) on a pre-recorded video. But school officials have asked Lefler to modify her "Christianized" speech, citing the First Amendment's freedom of religion. However, lawyers from the First Liberty institute argued that the school should respect the student's rights on free speech, The Christian Post reported.
In the draft of her speech that Lefler submitted, she shared the Gospel and urged other students to turn their lives to Christ.
She also encouraged her classmates to "seek the truth," highlighting that the teachings of the secular thinkers such as Plato and Charles Darwin, as well as of other religions, are "wrong."
"The purpose of life is to live a life devoted to Christ," her speech also says.
Further, she also tackled the Bible's perspective about "goodness," saying that "no one does good, not even one."
The school principal, Michael Wegher, requested for the modification of the speech. He said that though he appreciated Lefler's desire to speak about her "beliefs and philosophies," he pointed out that a public educational institution like JGHS should abide by the rules of the Constitution, in accordance with the First Amendment. Such rule states that "government institutions, including public schools, cannot favor one religion over any others."
Wegher urged Lefler to make her speech "inclusive and respectful" of other students who have different religions.
But Mike Berry and Stephanie Taub, lawyers of the First Liberty Institute, said that censoring "the private speech of students" violates their "rights under the Free Speech Clause."
Kevin T. Sutton, the school district's lawyer, has written the law firm, saying that its legal position is "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. ...," he added.
"Indeed, it is not a speech - it is a sermon," the lawyer further wrote.
However, Sutton told the law firm that though the school district is not obligated "to deviate from its practice, the School District will permit a one-time, non-negotiable relinquishment of control over Ms. Lefler's speech."
Thus, her speech would be allowed to be recorded but the video would have a disclaimer, stating that Lefler's statement is her own views and not of the school.
The decision was gladly welcomed by the First Liberty Institute lawyers.
"We are grateful that Savannah will be allowed to freely express her religious perspective in her remarks. [She] is thrilled that she'll be able to celebrate with her classmates without being censored," they said.
Lefler also expressed her gratitude, being able to articulate her Christian views.
"May God be glorified in the situation. 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," the student stated.