The Supreme Court in late November announced that it will not hear a case brought by a Colorado high school valedictorian who wanted to include Christian proselytism in her speech.
Erica Corder was one of 15 students at Lewis-Palmer High School in Monument who were given the opportunity to deliver a 30-second speech during graduation. The principal told the students he would review their comments beforehand.
Corder submitted remarks that were free of religious references but during her time at the microphone gave a different talk.
Corder preached to the audience, telling the crowd, “We are all capable of standing firm and expressing our own beliefs, which is why I need to tell you about someone who loves you more than you could ever imagine. He died for you on a cross over 2,000 years ago, yet was resurrected and is living today in heaven. His name is Jesus Christ. If you don’t know him personally, I encourage you to find out more about the sacrifice he made for you so that now you have the opportunity to live in eternity with him.”
The principal told Corder she would not receive her diploma until she publicly apologized. Corder prepared an e-mail to the student body, which the principal altered to include an additional line reading, “I realize that, had I asked ahead of time, I would not have been allowed to say what I did.” She received her diploma but then sued the school district.
In court, Corder was represented by Liberty Counsel, a legal group affiliated with Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Liberty University law school. Two federal courts ruled against her, and the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the Corder v. Lewis-Palmer School District No. 38 case brings the matter to a close.
Two weeks earlier, the high court turned down a similar dispute from Nevada. In that case, a high school senior named Brittany McComb sued officials at Foothill High School in Henderson after they shut off the microphone when she began delivering a speech that contained Christian proselytizing during graduation.
Backed by the Rutherford Institute, McComb sued the school in July of 2006. Although a federal court initially handed McComb a victory by ruling that the matter could go forward, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that opinion and dismissed the McComb v. Crehan case.
In other news about religion in public schools:
• A New Jersey public school district does not have to include religious carols in its holiday repertoire, a federal appeals court has ruled.
In 2004, a parent in the South Orange-Maplewood School District sued after district officials announced they would no longer include religious songs in winter pageants. The parent, Michael Stratechuk, was backed by the Thomas More Law Center, an ultra-orthodox Roman Catholic organization based in Ann Arbor, Mich.
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously in the Stratechuk v. Board of Education, South Orange-Maplewood School District case that school officials have the right to ensure a secular, “inclusive environment.”
• A Texas school district’s rules governing student distribution of religious material are constitutional, a federal appeals court has ruled.
Officials at the Plano Independent School District adopted the new policy in 2005 after some students complained that they were barred from passing out candy canes and pencils bearing Christian messages. The students’ parents sued, and in response district officials adopted a new policy. It says students may pass out material for 30 minutes before and after school, during recess, at three annual parties and at designated tables during the school day.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the policy in a Dec. 1 ruling. “The regulations,” the court ruled, “are aimed at providing a focused learning environment for its students.” (Morgan v. Plano Independent School District)