A Michigan public high school has reversed course after initially objecting to its Christian valedictorian’s prepared remarks as “a sermon” and instead will allow the pre-recorded speech, including a non-endorsement disclaimer by the school, during its Honors Convocation Ceremony.
In an email to Savannah Lefler, valedictorian of the 2021 senior class at John Glenn High School in Westland, Michael Wegher, the school’s principal, instructed the honors graduate to be more “inclusive and respectful” to students and staff “who would identify as Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindi, Sikh, Jehovah’s Witness, atheist, etc.” “We cannot take the approach that is currently laid out in your speech,” Wegher contended in the email.
But after receiving a letter from First Liberty Institute, a nonprofit law firm specializing in religious liberty, in defense of Lefler’s First Amendment rights to free speech, the school district relented.
“May God be glorified in the situation,” Lefler 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.”
Stephanie Taub, senior counsel for First Liberty Institute, said, “We are grateful that Savannah will be allowed to freely express her religious perspective in her remarks. Savannah is thrilled that she’ll be able to celebrate with her classmates without being censored.”
While claiming that the school district “is under no legal obligation to deviate from its practice,” school attorney Kevin T. Sutton said “the school district will permit a one-time, non-negotiable relinquishment of control over Ms. Lefler’s speech.”
According to a draft of Lefler’s speech, “The purpose of life is to live a life devoted to Christ.” Lefler’s speech cites John Piper’s book “Don’t Waste Your Life,” and contrasts the teachings of Plato, Charles Darwin and other religions with Christianity.
In his rebuttal letter to First Liberty Institute, Sutton describes Lefler’s speech as a “sermon” intended “to proselytize at a school-sponsored event.” The school district’s attorney quotes from the draft of Lefler’s speech: “Good is not an arbitrary word that reflects occasional pleasantness. Goodness is a virtue; moral excellence; perfected well doing. But the Bible reveals that ‘no one does good, not even one,’ and because of this, ‘the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth.’”
The draft of Lefler’s speech continues: “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. 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.”
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