Manufactured Christian free speech lawsuit dismissed

Here we brought you the story of Erica Corder, one of fifteen valedictorians for the Class of 2006 at Lewis Palmer High School near Colorado Springs, Colorado. The school required that valedictorians have their graduation day speeches vetted by school officials in advance. Corder submitted a prepared speech to the school principal in advance of the ceremony and got approval. Trouble is, she gave a substantially different speech at the ceremony itself, waxing starry-eyed about the Lord Jesus Christ and how He could do wonderful things for those assembled as well. Erica got in a bit of trouble over that. Given the state of Establishment Clause jurisprudence, public schools understandably tend to be a little skittish about overt proselytizing at school events.

Erica filed suit in August 2007 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado. The lawsuit was manufactured all the way. Corder’s father was a director of the uberfundamentalist, extreme right wing Christian political action group Focus on the Family. Although daddy denies any knowledge of what his daughter was planning, a more transparent lie is difficult to imagine. As if to emphasize the abject bullshittiness of the cover story, the Corders hired Bullshittin’ Mat Staver of the Christian right “Liberty Counsel” to pursue the case.

(I don’t have anything against manufactured lawsuits per se. I have little doubt that some of the biggest civil rights decisions of all time were dreamed up in a law firm’s conference room. What honks me off here is the outright dissembling.)

On Wednesday, Judge Walker Miller granted the school district’s motion for judgment on the pleadings and tossed the case in toto. The opinion is available here (pdf, 18 pages). The judge meticulously analyzes one by one the five causes of action Staver alleged in his complaint, concluding that each one failed as a matter of law.

The opinion is pretty much self-explanatory and readily comprehensible, so I’ll refrain from a detailed discussion. I only want to highlight a few points that illustrate what dirtball Staver and his cohorts at Liberty Counsel truly are.

The school board moved to dismiss Corder’s claims for declaratory and injunctive relief on mootness grounds. Corder graduated and received her diploma, the argument goes, so there’s no longer a live controversy between the parties. Liberty Counsel responded by claiming that their client was not seeking injunctive relief even thought the Staver-drafted complaint included a demand that the court “issue a permanent injunction” to prevent the school board from enforcing its “unwritten policy” of excising religious statements from student graduation speeches.

Equal Protection Clause claims regularly receive ten or more pages of analysis in cases such as this. The applicable law is complex and the calls can get quite close. Here, the court was able to shitcan the EP claim with near-record brevity:

Defendant argues that Plaintiff’s equal protection claim should be dismissed because she was not treated differently than anyone similarly situated to her; since Plaintiff was the only one who deviated from her rehearsed speech, she cannot show that Defendant treated her differently without a legally justified basis. In response, Plaintiff’s argument is that she did not do anything wrong, she only “rehearsed a speech before Mr. Brewer and then offered a speech referencing Jesus,” which should not be considered a misrepresentation. Response at 18. Plaintiff’s argument is unavailing. Although Plaintiff disagrees that her conduct should be considered “deceitful,” there is no indication that any other student engaged in the same conduct she did and, therefore, she was not treated differently from any similarly situated person. Therefore, this claim also must fail.

My, oh my. Keep pleading those frivolous claims, Mat. Someday you’ll dethrone Roy Pearson as the poster boy for tort “reform.”

In another argument, discussed on Page 11 of the opinion, Liberty Counsel seems to be suggesting that a Colorado state statute trumps federal Free Speech Clause jurisprudence. Dissemblin’ Mat and the other lawyers at Liberty Counsel went to law school, so I assume they were exposed to the Supremacy Clause at some point in their lives. Oh, how soon they forget.

H/T – Religion Clause

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  • LadyShea  On August 6, 2008 at 8:37 am

    Lewis-Palmer is my alma mater. I was very surprised to see such a tiny school in the ‘headlines”

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