Jon Sanders

So according to the wisdom of the public education establishment, a high-school valedictorian should lose her diploma for – not cheating, not plagiarism, but 30 seconds of telling her classmates about her faith in Jesus.

The U.S. Constitution compels them, you see. It's clearly there under the Separation Clause that everyone in education knows about. Funny thing about that, though...

But first, here's what happened. There were 15 valedictorians in the graduating class of 2006 at Lewis-Palmer High School in Monument, Colorado, and Erica Corder was one of them. With so many top students and so little time, the school decided to allot them 30 seconds apiece of condensed remarks at the graduation ceremony. When her time came, Corder thanked her teachers, parents, and peers for their support and encouragement, and then she said:

"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."

Heathen forfend! Corder, showing the lively spark of mind that helped her to achieve so highly in high school, had purposefully neglected to include that portion of her remarks in rehearsals so as not to disobey the inevitable order to shut up.

School officials responded typically, immediately meeting with Corder and demanding she apologize or not receive her diploma. They were most insistent that she include the phrase "I realize that, had I asked ahead of time, I would not have been allowed to say what I did." Corder buckled before the pressure, issued the demanded recantation, and received her diploma. But she was quite upset about this trespass against her First Amendment rights, and she obtained representation by Liberty Council, who wrote on her behalf to Lewis-Palmer High, demanding an apology. This request went unheeded, so Corder brought suit.

School officials insist that their actions were "constitutionally appropriate." Well, they may have been in keeping with the present-day interpretation of the First Amendment, but were they really appropriate?

Jon Sanders

Jon Sanders is associate director of research at the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh, N.C.