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Valedictorian files suit in dispute over religious graduation speech

By The Associated Press

DENVER — A student who said she was told she wouldn’t get her diploma unless she apologized for a commencement speech in which she mentioned Jesus has filed a lawsuit alleging her free-speech rights were violated.

The school district contends its actions were “constitutionally appropriate.”

Erica Corder was one of 15 valedictorians at Lewis-Palmer High School in 2006. All were invited to speak for 30 seconds at the graduation ceremony. When it was Corder’s turn, she encouraged the audience to get to know Jesus Christ.

Corder had not included those remarks during rehearsals.

Corder’s lawsuit, filed Aug. 27 in U.S. District Court, said Principal Mark Brewer told her to prepare a public apology or she would not receive her diploma. She was still allowed to graduate.

The lawsuit said Brewer would not give Corder her diploma until she included a sentence saying, “I realize that, had I asked ahead of time, I would not have been allowed to say what I did.” Corder received her diploma after complying.

The school district released a statement yesterday saying officials reviewed Corder’s case when it happened in 2006 and also met several times with Corder and her parents.

“While we are disappointed that this matter has resulted in litigation, we are confident that all actions taken by school officials were constitutionally appropriate,” the statement said. “As a result, we intend to vigorously defend the claims. Beyond that, it is the district’s policy not to comment on pending litigation.”

Brewer, who now works for Douglas County schools, declined to comment yesterday.

Corder is represented by attorneys affiliated with Liberty Counsel, an Orlando, Fla.-based group that says it is dedicated to advancing religious freedom.

Colo. student loses lawsuit over religious graduation speech
Federal judge rules high school didn't violate Erica Corder's rights by punishing her because her remarks were school-sponsored, rather than private, speech. 08.08.08


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Court finds in California case that 'permitting a proselytizing speech at a public school's graduation ceremony would amount to coerced participation in a religious practice.' 02.21.03

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Federal lawsuit says administrators violated Brittany McComb's religious freedom, free speech by pulling plug on graduation address that included Christian references. 07.15.06

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Texas district had allowed students to cast ballots for or against commencement invocations. 03.10.08

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Jennifer Chau 'was regressing beyond what we worked with her on, and that's the end of it,' administrator says in defending decision to end unapproved remarks. 06.23.08

When schools silence God talk
By Nat Hentoff As another school year starts, many administrators need a lesson on the meaning of the establishment clause (reprinted from USA TODAY). 08.30.06

Graduation ceremonies

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