Onward Christian Valedictorian

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Denver, CO – Liberty Counsel filed a brief asking the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals to rule in favor of Erica Corder, a high school valedictorian who was forced to publicly apologize for sharing her Christian faith during her 30-second message at graduation.

Liberty Counsel filed a federal lawsuit against Lewis Palmer School District in August 2007. Erica was one of fifteen valedictorians from the Lewis-Palmer High School class of 2006. For more than two years, she has been the subject of criticism because the school continues to portray her as a student who engaged in improper conduct for mentioning Jesus Christ during a graduation speech.

Before graduation in May 2006, Principal Mark Brewer informed the valedictorians that they could choose one student to speak, or that all of them could deliver a 30-second graduation message. The students chose to have all fifteen valedictorians participate and chose a general topic for each speaker. Erica and one other student were chosen to give concluding messages. Each valedictorian orally presented a proposed speech to the principal before graduation.

At graduation, Erica delivered a different speech that expressed her faith in Jesus Christ. Afterwards, she was escorted to see the assistant principal, who said she would not receive her diploma because of the speech she had given. Principal Brewer unlawfully threatened Erica by falsely claiming she could receive her diploma only if she apologized to the entire school community.

Under duress, Erica prepared a statement saying the message was her own and was not endorsed by the principal. Brewer insisted that she include the words: “I realize that, had I asked ahead of time, I would not have been allowed to say what I did.” Erica complied because she feared the school would withhold her diploma. She was also afraid that the school would put disciplinary notes in her file and would generate negative publicity, which could prevent her from becoming a school teacher. Principal Brewer sent Erica’s coerced statement in an email to the entire high school community. Liberty Counsel tried to resolve the issue, but the school district refused.

Mathew Staver, Founder of Liberty Counsel and Dean of Liberty University School of Law, commented: “The school district had no right to coerce Erica Corder to speak against her will when she was no longer a student. The school district compounded its unconstitutional censorship of religious viewpoints by forcing an exemplary alumnus to ‘confess’ to the school’s own crime. Graduation was over. The lights had been turned off. The people were gone. Erica graduated and yet the school officials falsely claimed this straight-A student could not graduate because she mentioned the name of ‘Jesus’ in her 30-second speech. This is unbelievable. Students do not shed their right to free speech when they stand at the graduation podium.”

This article is excerpted from a Liberty Counsel press release