Erica Corder wanted to tell her graduating classmates about her Lord and Savior. But she didn’t tell her principal about her plan. So Corder’s public school Come-To-Jesus graduation speech was a bit of a shocker, and the principal made her write an e-mail apology to her classmates before he would hand over her diploma.
Now, more than a year after the dust-up, Corder is suing the school district. At her side is the Lynchburg, Va.-based Liberty Counsel, a Christian law firm and ministry whose lawyers focus specifically on religious liberty, the sanctity of human life and the traditional family. Their past clients have included Jerry Falwell and Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family – where Corder’s father Steven works.A spokeswoman for the Liberty Counsel said that Corder is not seeking monetary damages in her lawsuit, which was filed this week. Rather, she wants a public apology from the school district. And attorneys’ fees.
(For its part, the school district issued this statement after the lawsuit was announced: “While we are disappointed that this matter has resulted in litigation, we are confident that all actions taken by school officials were constitutionally appropriate.”)
Corder was one of 15 valedictorians in her 2006 graduating class of 425 at Lewis-Palmer High School in Monument, north of Colorado Springs. This is what she said to her classmates:
“Throughout these lessons our teachers, parents, and let’s not forget our peers have supported and encouraged us along the way. Thank you all for the past four amazing years. Because of your love and devotion to our success, we have all learned how to endure change and remain strong individuals.
“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.
“And we also encourage you, now that we are all ready to encounter the biggest change in our lives thus far, the transition from childhood to adulthood, to leave (our school) with confidence and integrity. Congratulations class of 2006.”
Six days after graduation, Corder received her diploma. She has since gone off to Wheaton College in Illinois.
Earlier this year, her father, Steven Corder, used his daughter’s story as an example of what he described as anti-Christian sentiment in public schools during legislative testimony.
Specifically, Corder was speaking in support of a proposal to create a required so-called “Religious Bill of Rights” to be posted in every Colorado public school and handed out to every high school student – and which would let teachers opt out of teaching material they did not personally agree with, like evolution.
The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Dave Schultheis, died in committee. Among the complaints: The measure appeared solely designed to protect outspoken evangelical Christians in public schools.
Cara DeGette is a senior fellow at Colorado Confidential and a columnist and contributing editor at the Colorado Springs Independent. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org