Manufactured “Christian Free Speech” Lawsuit Filed

This one’s been in the works for a long time. Erica Corder was one of fifteen (!) valedictorians for the class of 2006 at Lewis-Palmer High School near Colorado Springs, CO. She and her fellow valedictorians were given thirty seconds each to speak during the school’s May 25, 2006 commencement ceremony. Each of the speakers was required to submit their remarks to school officials for approval in advance, and even rehearsed their joint presentation before the school’s principal.

Public schools are understandably skittish about religious speeches during graduation exercises. School districts are government entities, so prayers and other religious speech at school functions that can reasonably be attributed to school officials open up the district to lengthy and expensive Establishment Clause litigation. See, e.g., Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 577 (1992).

At the commencement ceremony Erica departed rather substantially from the text she submitted to, and had approved by, school officials:

“We are all capable of standing firm and expressing our own beliefs, which is why I need to tell you about some- one who loves you more than you could ever imagine. He died for you on the 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.”

Corder planned her little proselytizing exercised for months in advance, but didn’t bother to tell anyone.

The principal allegedly told Corder that she wouldn’t get her diploma unless and until she wrote an email to parents explaining her actions and absolving the school of any responsibility for the content of her speech. Corder claims that the principal refused her first tendered apology and insisted that she add the sentence, “I realize that, had I asked ahead of time, I would not have been allowed to say what I did.”

Corder, now a college student in Florida, filed suit against the school district yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado. She alleges that the district’s post-commencement conduct constituted viewpoint discrimination and violated her First Amendment free speech rights.

Dissemblin’ Mat Staver of the Falwell-funded Liberty Counsel represents Corder. Anyone with the stomach for it can check out Dissemblin’ Mat’s rhetorical excesses here.

So why is this a “manufactured lawsuit”? The answer lies toward the end of the Colorado Springs Gazette article linked above. Erica’s father was a director at Focus on the Family, James Dobson’s filthy rich and highly influential theocracy mongering organization dedicated in large part to through-and-through Christianizing government at every level.

Erica’s dad says that neither he nor FoF had any idea what she was up to. If your bullshit alarm didn’t explode when you read that, return it for a full refund. Given the well established fact that lying for the Lord is what FoF is all about, it’s virtually certain that they not only had advance knowledge of but actually orchestrated the whole mess.

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  • Paul LaClair  On September 1, 2007 at 11:08 am

    Nearly a year ago, my son Matthew LaClair (Google name for his story) became involved in a widely reported case involving religious freedom in public school. Because of my deep commitment to religious freedom under the First Amendment, I have steadfastly supported my son in seeking and finally obtaining a remedy from our local Board of Education. Although Matthew suffered compensable damages, apparently unlike Ms. Corder, our settlement is non-monetary.

    I have been practicing law for thirty years, and have a deep commitment to students’ religious freedom. In fact, when I first read about this case I was outraged that the school district had shut down the students’ expression. Reading further, however, I saw that was not the case. It might have been under other circumstances, but in fact it was not.

    Both the student and the school district can be faulted to a point: the student for lying about her intentions, delivering her remarks by stealth and dishonesty, and departing from the purposes of the fifteen-student joint statement; the school district for withholding her diploma. However, the school’s principal was correct in observing that Ms. Corder’s remarks were immature. They were also arrogant and presumptuous.

    Under the law, what might have happened had Ms. Corder approached the situation honestly no longer matters. She delivered her remarks, and therefore has no ground to complain that her right to speak was squelched. It was not.

    The only “damage” done to her has been fully remedied by all accounts. She has her diploma and is apparently attending the college of her choice. The so-called Liberty Counsel’s news release makes it quite clear that the only remedy she is seeking is prospective and does not pertain to any rights she presently holds. I predict that her case will quickly be dismissed because she lacks standing; the same reason that Michael Newdow’s action was dismissed, only Ms. Corder’s case is far clearer because she no longer attends that school. (Mr. Newdow’s son did, but because Mr. Newdow was not the custodial parent he was denied standing.) It will also be dismissed because it requests a prospective remedy without a present plaintiff who has standing.

    There is no case without a legally cognizable remedy. Where is Ms. Corder’s case?

    My son opened a topic on our local web site to discuss this case. Feel free to visit us at I post as Paul, which is my first name. He posts under his full name, which is Matthew LaClair.

  • genghishitler  On September 3, 2007 at 6:22 pm

    Thanks very much for stopping by and giving us your take on these issues, Paul. “There is no case without a legally cognizable remedy” sums things up quite nicely IMO. Congrats to you and your son on what looks to be a fine outcome from his case.

  • sandrar  On September 10, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.


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