DENVER As she stepped to the microphone for her commencement speech last spring, Erica Corder knew that what she was about to say might ruffle some feathers.
But the 2006 graduate of Lewis-Palmer High School in Monument, Colo., one of 15 valedictorians who addressed the crowd didn’t believe she had a choice.
“I really felt God calling me to do this,” Corder said this week. “My top priority is obeying God.”
So Erica Corder thanked all the teachers, parents and peers in the crowd for their encouragement throughout the years.
Then, deviating from the 30-second speech that had been approved by the principal, she began speaking about “someone who loves you more than you could ever imagine.”
“His name is Jesus Christ,” Corder said. “If you don’t already know him personally, I encourage you to find out more about the sacrifice he made for you.”
The controversy was immediate. Parents and students including some of her fellow valedictorians complained that Corder had been proselytizing and that her comments were inappropriate. She also took heat from school officials for deviating from the approved script.
Before she was granted her diploma, Corder was required to apologize in an e-mail to the entire school community.
Now Corder is fighting back.
In a lawsuit filed in federal court this week, Corder says the school violated her rights to free speech and equal protection.
Corder’s father, Steve, said Thursday the Corders are not seeking money, other than attorneys’ fees. Rather, they want clarity on an area of the law that has caused problems for graduation speakers of strong faith across the country in recent years.
“We don’t want future speakers to run into the same thing,” said Steve Corder, who works at Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family.
The Lewis-Palmer School District released a statement Wednesday saying it intends to “vigorously defend the claims.”
“While we are disappointed that this matter has resulted in litigation, we are confident that all actions taken by school officials were constitutionally appropriate,” the statement said.
Corder is now a sophomore at Wheaton College in Illinois, the alma mater of Billy Graham.