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Valedictorian Forced to Apologize for Speech Thanking Jesus Appeals to US Supreme Court

LifeSiteNews.com
LifeSiteNews.com

WASHINGTON, D.C., August 28, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) - A high school graduate, forced by public school officials to apologize for expressing her religious beliefs in her valedictory address or lose her diploma, has asked the US Supreme Court to review her case and reverse a lower court's decision that upheld the school's violations of her religious liberties and constitutionally protected speech.

Liberty Counsel, a non-profit public advocacy group dedicated to advancing religious freedom, filed a Petition for Certiorari at the United States Supreme Court, on behalf of Erica Corder, who graduated with a 4.0 GPA but was denied her diploma until she issued a publically disseminated, coerced, written apology for presenting a thirty-second valedictory speech that included a reference to her faith in Jesus Christ. The petition asks the high court to review the case for themselves and if four justices out of nine justices agree, then Corder will get her final appeal before the full US Supreme Court.

Corder was one of fifteen valedictorians from the Lewis-Palmer High School class of 2006. Each valedictorian orally presented a proposed speech to the principal before graduation. However, at the graduation ceremony, Corder deviated from her prepared speech and expressed her faith in Jesus Christ, encouraging the audience to learn more about her Savior.

"We are all capable of standing firm and expressing our own beliefs," she said in her address, "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."

Afterwards, she was escorted to see the assistant principal, who stated that Corder would not receive her diploma because of the speech she had given. Principal Mark Brewer then decided that Corder could only receive her diploma if she apologized to the school community.

Corder prepared a statement saying the message was her own and was not endorsed by the principal. But Principal Brewer also insisted that she include the words: "I realize that, had I asked ahead of time, I would not have been allowed to say what I did."

Brewer sent out the valedictorian's message in an e-mail to the entire high school community. Shortly thereafter, Erica received her diploma.

Nonetheless, Liberty Counsel points out that Corder only complied because she feared the school would withhold her diploma, put damaging disciplinary notes in her file, and would generate negative publicity that could prevent her from becoming a school teacher.

"A valedictorian's speech is not government speech. Everyone knows that a valedictorian earned the high GPA and understands the speech belongs to the student," said Mat Staver, the founder of Liberty Counsel and one of Corder's representatives. "It is reprehensible that the school district threatened to withhold Erica Corder's diploma, merely because a few sentences of her 30-second speech included references to God."

Corder filed suit against the Lewis-Palmer School District of Colorado in August 2007, seeking declaratory relief and nominal damages for a violation of her First Amendment right to freedom of speech. The district court ruled there was no constitutional violation, stating that Corder's speech was "school-sponsored," and therefore the forced apology was not improper. This past May, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals denied Corder's appeal and affirmed the ruling.

However Liberty Counsel is arguing that the Tenth Circuit's decision undermines student free speech rights and conflicts with an Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals decision, another graduation message case called Adler v. Duval County School Board. There a 12-judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals sitting en banc sided with Liberty Counsel against the ACLU and found that a policy whereby students select the content of their messages is student speech, not school-sponsored speech.

Liberty Counsel hopes to use the precedent to argue before the Supreme Court that the religious viewpoints of students are protected by the First Amendment. The case is Corder v. Lewis-Palmer School District No. 38.


See related coverage by LifeSiteNews.com:

U.S. Court Rejects Appeal of Valedictorian Forced to Apologize for Expressing Faith in Christ 

Valedictorian Barred from Giving Speech Because of References to "God" Files Suit  

High-School Valedictorian Sues School for Muting Speech Thanking Jesus 

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Brian Fisher

Birth mothers: real heroes of the pro-life movement

Brian Fisher
By Brian Fisher
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What does it mean to be brave? Is it the doctor who dedicates himself to improving the health of a third-world nation? Is it the woman who faces her third round of chemotherapy to fight the progression of cancer? Is it the teacher who forgoes the comforts of a suburban school to reach minorities in the inner city? All of these are examples of bravery demonstrated in exceedingly challenging circumstances. And our society longs for stories of bravery to inspire us and fill us with hope.

As someone who works day in and day out with those on the front lines of helping rescue babies from abortion, I’m no stranger to stories of bravery. I see courage every day in the eyes of the men and women who sacrifice their time and energy to help women facing unplanned pregnancies. I see it every time a young mom — despite being pressured by her parents or significant other to get an abortion — chooses LIFE. And perhaps more profoundly than in any other situation, I see it when an expectant mom with no relational support, job, or income chooses to place her baby for adoption rather than abort her son or daughter.

This was Nicky’s situation.

When Nicky found herself pregnant with her boyfriend’s child, her life was already in shambles. During her 26 years, Nicky had already given birth to and surrendered sole custody of a little girl, committed several felonies, lived in her car, lost several jobs, and barely subsisted on minimum wage. So when she met up with an old boyfriend, Brandon, Nicky believed she was being given a second chance at happiness. “Our first year together was beautiful. We were getting to know each other and deciding if we would stay together forever.” Unfortunately, a positive pregnancy test result changed everything.

“When I told him I was pregnant, Brandon sat down on the bed, looked me in the eyes, and told me to ‘get an abortion’.” Nicky says those three little words changed everything for her. “I became depressed living with someone who wanted his child ‘dealt with.’”  Like thousands of women every day, Nicky began searching online for information on abortion, hoping her boyfriend would eventually change his mind. Through our strategic marketing methods, Online for Life was able to guide Nicky to a life-affirming pregnancy center where she received grace-filled counsel. “The woman I sat with was beyond wonderful. She helped me to just breathe and ask God what to do….And so I did.”

Nicky left the pregnancy center that day with a new resolve to choose life for her child, even though she still wasn’t sure how she’d financially support a child. “I was alone with just $10 in my pocket…and without any type of plan for what I was going to do.” So Nicky relied on the support of the staff she met at the life-affirming pregnancy center. With their help and through a chain of fortunate events, Nicky was put in contact with the couple who would eventually become her daughter’s adoptive parents.

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After meeting this couple face to face and coming to terms with her own desperate situation, Nicky conceded that the best thing for her unborn child would be to place her in someone else’s loving home. She told Brandon about her plans and he agreed that adoption would give their child the best chance at a happy and secure future. He even returned home to help Nicky prepare for the birth of their child. “The weeks leading up to my delivery were filled with a mixture of laughter, tears, protectiveness and sadness,” Nicky recalls. But one sentiment continued to be shared with her. “Brave…so brave.” That’s what everyone from the life-affirming pregnancy center to the adoption agency to the birthing center kept calling Nicky. “The nurses kept coming up to me and telling me they were honored to care for and treat someone like me.” After several weeks of preparation, Nicky finally gave birth to a healthy baby girl, and she made the dreams of a couple from the other side of the country come true.

Nicky’s adoption story continues to be riddled with a strange combination of pain and joy. “I cry every day, but I know my baby, who came out of a very bad time, ended up being loved by people from across the country.” When asked what message she’d like to share with the world about her decision to give up her child for adoption, Nicky responds, The voice of the mother who gives up a baby for adoption isn’t heard. We need to change that.”

To learn more about Online for Life and how we’re helping to make stories like Nicky and her daughter’s story a possibility, please visit OnlineforLife.org.

Author, speaker, and business leader Brian Fisher is the President and Co-Founder of Online for Life, a transparent, metric-oriented, compassion-driven nonprofit organization dedicated to helping rescue babies and their families from abortion through technology and grace.

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New York farmers stop hosting weddings after $13,000 fine for declining lesbian ceremony

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By Dustin Siggins

New York farmers Robert and Cynthia Gifford, who were ordered last week to pay $13,000 for not hosting a same-sex "wedding," say they are closing that part of their operation.

"Going forward, the Giffords have decided to no longer host any wedding ceremonies on their farm, other than the ones already under contract," said Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) lawyer James Trainor. ADF represented the Giffords in their legal fight against New York's non-discrimination law.

Last week, the Giffords were ordered to pay a $10,000 fine to the state of New York and $3,000 in damages to a lesbian couple, Jennifer McCarthy and Melisa Erwin, who approached them in 2012 about hosting their "wedding." The Giffords, who are Roman Catholic, said their religious convictions would not let them host the ceremony, but that McCarthy and Erwin could hold their reception on their property.

Unbeknownst to the Giffords, lesbian couple recorded the two-to-three minute conversation. After declining to hold the reception on the Giffords' farm, on which they live and rent property, the lesbian couple decided to make a formal complaint to the state's Division of Human Rights.

Eventually, Judge Migdalia Pares ruled that the Giffords' farm, Liberty Ridge Farm, constitutes a public accommodation because space is rented on the grounds and fees are collected from the public. The Giffords argued that because they live on the property with their children, they should be exempt from the state law, but Pares said that this does not mean their business is private.

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Trainor told TheBlaze that the Giffords' decision to end wedding ceremonies at Liberty Ridge “will hurt their business in the short run," but that was preferable to violating their religious beliefs.

“The Giffords serve all people with respect and care. They have hired homosexual employees and have hosted events for same-sex couples,” he said.

However, "since the state of New York has essentially compelled them to do all ceremonies or none at all, they have chosen the latter in order to stay true to their religious convictions," Trainor explained to LifeSiteNews. "No American should be forced by the government to choose between their livelihood and their faith, but that’s exactly the choice the state of New York has forced upon the Giffords."

"They will continue to host wedding receptions," said Trainor.

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Thaddeus Baklinski Thaddeus Baklinski Follow Thaddeus

South African mom files ‘wrongful life’ lawsuit on behalf of Downs son

Thaddeus Baklinski Thaddeus Baklinski Follow Thaddeus
By Thaddeus Baklinski

A South African woman has launched a "wrongful life" lawsuit against the Cape Town-based Foetal Assessment Centre, claiming a failure to inform her that the child she was carrying was at risk of having Down Syndrome prevented her from aborting her baby.

A twist in this lawsuit is that, unlike other "wrongful birth" lawsuits, the mother in this case missed the time limit to file the claim on her own behalf, so she is asking the South African Constitutional Court to allow her to sue the center for “wrongful life” on behalf of her now-born son.

“You have a duty to tell my mother carrying me that I'm malformed so that she can make an informed decision as to whether or not to carry me to term,” the statement of claim against the Foetal Assessment Centre reads, according to SABC News.

“It is not as if the foetus is sort of putting up its hand and saying why you didn’t destroy me," the mother's lawyer, Paul Hoffman, explained to Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke. "The foetus is complaining that its malformation, its development is the result of the bad advice that was given.”

The SABC report did not say what compensation the woman is seeking.

The scope of the case is similar to that of a New Zealand couple who won a lawsuit claiming monetary compensation after a routine 20 week ultrasound scan failed to discover that their daughter had spina bifida.

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The mother, whose name has not been released, claimed that the continuance of the pregnancy was a “personal injury,” and, had she been given the correct diagnosis after that scan, she would have aborted her daughter.

"We consider that the continued pregnancy of the appellant following a misdiagnosis in the 20 week scan is capable of being an injury suffered by the appellant,” the court ruled, and directed the New Zealand Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) to make the woman eligible for compensation for the ongoing surgical and physiotherapy expenses incurred by their child.

New Zealand disability advocate Mike Sullivan said the underpinning attitude behind the decision is that those with disability, both born and unborn, are seen as a burden on society.

“This is what happens,” Sullivan said, when “the children become reduced to nothing – wrong even to exist.”

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