Judge dismisses suit over Jesus-filled graduation sermon

Remember when Erica Corder pulled the old switcheroo — that is, when she swapped out her high school valedictorian speech for a come-to-Jesus pep talk? A year later she sued the Lewis-Palmer School District just north of Colorado Springs for violating her right to free speech and religious expression; last week a federal judge tossed the lawsuit.

The brouhaha began more than two years ago when Corder, one of 15 valedictorians, ditched the graduation speech her principal thought she would deliver to her fellow classmates, and replaced it with a sermon urging them to find Jesus. This is the part of the speech that got her in trouble:

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 already know Him personally, I encourage you to find out more about the sacrifice He made for you, so that you now have the opportunity to live in eternity with Him.

Not amused, the principal had Corder write an e-mail letter of apology to her classmates before he would hand over her diploma. Off Corder went to Wheaton College in Illinois, but last August, with the help of the Lynchburg, Va.-based Liberty Counsel, a Christian law firm and ministry, Corder sued.

Last week U.S. District Court Judge Walker D. Miller ruled that the school district did not violate Corder’s First Amendment rights. The speech, he ruled, was not “private speech in a limited public forum but rather school-sponsored speech.” In addition, the case was moot, Judge Miller ruled, as Corder has graduated.

But don’t expect Corder to necessarily move on. Last week she told the Colorado Springs Gazette that she may appeal the case: "I want to continue to do what God wants me to do, and he wants me to keep going."

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Cara Degette

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