Monday, October 20th 2014
 

Christianity v. Public Schools All Over Again – Valedictorian’s Lawsuit

Erica Corder

The relationship between religion and public education is endless fodder for debate, and it seems that, the more diverse our society is, the more problematic political correctness becomes. On November 30, 2009 the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from Erica Corder to revive her 2008 lawsuit against Lewis Palmer School District, reigniting conversations about freedom of speech and the separation of church and state.

Erica Corder, a 2006 graduate of Lewis-Palmer High School in Monument, Colorado co-wrote a commencement speech with 14 other valedictorians, each invited to speak for 30 seconds. Of these 15 valedictorians, two were doing opening introductions, eleven were reflecting on their high school years, and Erica and another student were to make closing remarks. However, Corder violated a pre-approval agreement with school officials, changing her text to focus on Jesus and urge the audience to consider the Christian faith.

Corder sued after the school withheld her diploma, forcing her to issue an apology explaining that the remarks were her own and not endorsed by the school. But U.S. District Judge Walker Miller ruled on July 30, 2008 that the school’s punishment was not a violation of First Amendment rights because Erica’s speech was school-sponsored rather than private.

Reactions were mixed; with some rushing to Erica’s defense and others contending that a facility paid for by state and tax dollars is not an appropriate venue for personal “sermons.” Although some take umbrage with Erica’s attempt to proselytize, the larger issue may be her conscious deception and breach of school policy.

Integrating faith and graduation has cropped up in several other cases:

In May 2009, The Rutherford Institute filed a complaint against Butte High School in Billings, Montana for forbidding Renee Griffith from speaking altogether during her 2008 graduation because she refused to replace mentions of “God” and “Christ” with “sharing my faith” and “lived with a purpose, a purpose derived from my faith and based on a love of mankind.”

It was also sound off for Brittany McComb, valedictorian of Foothill High School in Henderson, NV whose 2006 speech was filled with Biblical and Christian references. An advance screening process was involved. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed her First Amendment lawsuit, but McComb plans to appeal this ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court with help from The Rutherford Institute.

After receiving numerous complaints, the ACLU and Americans United plan to sue the district if school officials in Enfield, CT refuse to stop holding its high school graduation ceremonies at a Christian church loaded with religious messages and symbols.

Are Christian students being deprived of their constitutional rights or are secular or non-Christian students’ rights infringed upon by such religious speech? Where are the lines between Church and State, and are they being crossed?

Posted by Rebecca on December 10, 2009 at 1:15 pm.

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