DENVER – A student who said she was told she wouldn't get her diploma unless she apologized for a commencement speech in which she mentioned Jesus has filed a lawsuit alleging her free speech rights were violated.
The school district contends its actions were "constitutionally appropriate."
Erica Corder was one of 15 valedictorians at Lewis-Palmer High School in 2006. All were invited to speak for 30 seconds at the graduation ceremony. When it was Corder's turn, she encouraged the audience to get to know Jesus Christ.
Corder had not included those remarks during rehearsals.
Corder's lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court, said Principal Mark Brewer told her to prepare a public apology or she would not receive her diploma. She was still allowed to graduate.
The lawsuit said Brewer would not give Corder her diploma until she included a sentence saying, "I realize that, had I asked ahead of time, I would not have been allowed to say what I did." Corder received her diploma after complying.
The school district released a statement Wednesday saying officials reviewed Corder's case when it happened in 2006 and also met several times with Corder and her parents.
"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. "As a result, we intend to vigorously defend the claims. Beyond that, it is the district's policy not to comment on pending litigation."
Brewer, who now works for Douglas County schools, declined to comment Wednesday.
Corder is represented by attorneys affiliated with Liberty Counsel, an Orlando, Fla.-based group that says it is dedicated to advancing religious freedom.