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TRI In The News

Holland-Area District Wants Commencement Speech Changed

Original article available here.

HOLLAND TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) -- A school district has asked a West Ottawa High School co-valedictorian to change his planned two-minute commencement speech that was to include biblical references.

If Jed Grooters didn't agree to make changes requested by West Ottawa Public Schools, he wasn't expected to be allowed to speak at Sunday's ceremony, The Holland Sentinel and The Grand Rapids Press reported.

"We want to hear our valedictorians talk about their life lessons, but that's not what was coming from Jed. He was giving a religious speech," West Ottawa Superintendent Patricia Koeze said.

Grooters said he intended to obey whatever decision the school made.
"I respect my school, and I love the people there," he said. "I'm not happy with the decision, but I will respect it."

Grooters said he was thinking about what lesson he could relate to his classmates and their families and was inspired during a Bible study session.

The district, which includes part of Ottawa County near Holland in western Michigan, concluded that allowing him to read the speech would violate the constitutional separation of church and state.

Grooters' family sought guidance from The Rutherford Institute, a conservative civil rights group based in Charlottesville, Va. Staff attorney Douglas McKusick wrote the school district, saying that prohibiting the speech would violate the student's constitutional right to free speech.

"There is no reason he should not be able to share these views at a time set apart to honor him for his achievements," McKusick wrote.


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