Westland, MI

Westland principal allows “Christianized” valedictorian speech after trying to censor it: "It's a sermon, not a speech"

Amy Christie

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The principal John Glenn High School in Westland has been criticized about his attempt to censor a portion of Savannah Lefler's speech set to be a part of her graduation, scheduled for next week.

It is the second time that the same law firm acts against censorship from high schools related to graduation ceremonies.

How did it all happen?

First Liberty Institute sent a letter to Michael Wegher, the school principal, on Tuesday alerting him regarding the "very Christianized" speech, as The Blaze reports.

The student’s speech notes that ideas from Plato and Charles Darwin are “wrong”, and she goes on to declare that “the purpose of life is to live a life devoted to Christ. The chief Purpose for which man is made is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.”

Wegher reportedly told the student that she needed to revise her speech because “the school also has staff and students who identify as Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindi, Sikh, Jehovah's Witnesses, atheist, etc. We must be inclusive and respectful of their beliefs as well,” it was added.

What was the next step?

First Liberty informed the principal in the letter 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 school principal was then told by the law firm that his actions are a breach of “the student’s rights under the Free Speech Clause”. The firm went on to request him to “allow Ms. Lefler to express her private religious beliefs in her Honors Night speech.”

The reaction was very fast

First Liberty said in a news release that the decision has been reversed and that Lefler could deliver the speech in the way she wished.

However, the school district's attorney notified First Liberty that its 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. Indeed, it is not a speech, it is a sermon,” attorney Kevin T. Sutton wrote, according to the Christian Post.

According to the law firm, the school district stated that it did not concede “a legal requirement”. Instead, it allowed a “one-time non-negotiable relinquishment of control” that lets the student include what she wants in her speech with a disclaimer stating that the school does not endorse any of it.

“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 Westland student said after finding out about the positive decision.

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Amy Christie is a passionate writer and journalist, always striving to bring out the positive and create meaningful connections.

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