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

WASHINGTON, D.C., August 28, 2009 ( - 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

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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Today’s chuckle: Rubio, Fiorina and Carson pardon a Thanksgiving turkey

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By Steve Jalsevac

A little bit of humour now and then is a good thing.

Happy Thanksgiving to all our American readers.

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Building of the European Court of Human Rights.
Lianne Laurence


BREAKING: Europe’s top human rights court slaps down German ban on pro-life leafletting

Lianne Laurence
By Lianne Laurence

STRASBOURG, France, November 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – The European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday that a German regional court violated a pro-life activist’s freedom of expression when it barred him from leafleting in front of an abortion center.

It further ruled the German court’s order that Klaus Gunter Annen not list the names of two abortion doctors on his website likewise violated the 64-year-old pro-life advocate’s right to freedom of expression.

The court’s November 26 decision is “a real moral victory,” says Gregor Puppinck, director of the Strasbourg-based European Center for Law and Justice, which intervened in Annen’s case. “It really upholds the freedom of speech for pro-life activists in Europe.”

Annen, a father of two from Weinam, a mid-sized city in the Rhine-Neckar triangle, has appealed to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights at least two times before, Puppinck told LifeSiteNews.

“This is the first time he made it,” he said, noting that this time around, Annen had support from the ECLJ and Alliance Defense Fund and the German Pro-life Federation (BVL). “I think he got more support, better arguments and so I think this helped.”

The court also ordered the German government to pay Annen costs of 13,696.87 EUR, or 14,530 USD.

Annen started distributing pamphlets outside a German abortion center ten years ago, ECLJ stated in a press release.

His leaflets contained the names and addresses of the two abortionists at the center, declared they were doing “unlawful abortions,” and stated in smaller print that, “the abortions were allowed by the German legislators and were not subject to criminal liability.”

Annen’s leaflets also stated that, “The murder of human beings in Auschwitz was unlawful, but the morally degraded NS State allowed the murder of innocent people and did not make it subject to criminal liability.” They referred to Annen’s website,, which listed a number of abortionists, including the two at the site he was leafleting.

In 2007, a German regional court barred Annen from pamphleteering in the vicinity of the abortion center, and ordered him to drop the name of the two abortion doctors from his website.

But the European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday that the German courts had "failed to strike a fair balance between [Annen’s] right to freedom of expression and the doctor’s personality rights.”

The Court stated that, “there can be no doubt as to the acute sensitivity of the moral and ethical issues raised by the question of abortion or as to the importance of the public interest at stake.”

That means, stated ECLJ, that “freedom of expression in regard to abortion shall enjoy a full protection.”

ECLJ stated that the court noted Annen’s leaflets “made clear that the abortions performed in the clinic were not subject to criminal liability. Therefore, the statement that ‘unlawful abortions’ were being performed in the clinic was correct from a legal point of view.”

As for the Holocaust reference, the court stated that, “the applicant did not – at least not explicitly – equate abortion with the Holocaust.”  Rather, the reference was “a way of creating awareness of the more general fact that law might diverge from morality.”

The November 26 decision “is a quite good level of protection of freedom of speech for pro-life people,” observed Puppinck.

First, the European Court of Human Rights has permitted leafleting “in the direct proximate vicinity of the clinic, so there is no issue of zoning,” he told LifeSiteNews. “And second, the leaflets were mentioning the names of the doctors, and moreover, were mentioning the issue of the Holocaust, which made them quite strong leaflets.”

“And the court protected that.”

Annen has persevered in his pro-life awareness campaign through the years despite the restraints on his freedom.

“He did continue, and he did adapt,” Puppinck told LifeSiteNews. “He kept his freedom of speech as much as he could, but he continued to be sanctioned by the German authorities, and each time he went to the court of human rights. And this time, he won.”

ECLJ’s statement notes that “any party” has three months to appeal the November 26 decision.

However, as it stands, the European Court of Human Rights’s ruling affects “all the national courts,” noted Puppinck, and these will now “have to protect freedom of speech, recognize the freedom of speech for pro-lifers.”

“In the past, the courts have not always been very supportive of the freedom of speech of pro-life,” he said, so the ruling is “significant.”

As for Annen’s pro-life ministry, Pubbinck added: “He can continue to go and do, and I’m sure that he does, because he always did.”  

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A vibrant church in Africa. Pierre-Yves Babelon /
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‘Soft racism’: German Bishops’ website attributes African Catholics’ strong faith to simplemindedness

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By Pete Baklinski

GERMANY, November 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) --  The only reason the Catholic Church is growing in Africa is because the people have a “rather low level” of education and accept “simple answers to difficult questions” involving marriage and sexuality, posited an article on the official website of the German Bishops' Conference posted yesterday. The article targeted particularly Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea, the Vatican's prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and ardent defender of Catholic tradition.

First Things blogger Leroy Huizenga, who translated a portion of the article, criticized the article's view as “soft racism.”

In his article, titled “The Romantic, Poor Church,” editor Björn Odendahl writes: 

So also in Africa. Of course the Church is growing there. It grows because the people are socially dependent and often have nothing else but their faith. It grows because the educational situation there is on average at a rather low level and the people accept simple answers to difficult questions (of faith) [sic]. Answers like those that Cardinal Sarah of Guinea provides. And even the growing number of priests is a result not only of missionary power but also a result of the fact that the priesthood is one of the few possibilities for social security on the dark continent.

Huizenga said that such an article has no place on a bishops’ conference website. 

“We all know that the German Bishops' Conference is one of the most progressive in the world. But it nevertheless beggars belief that such a statement would appear on the Conference's official website, with its lazy slander of African Christians and priests as poor and uneducated (Odendahl might as well have added ‘easy to command’) and its gratuitous swipe at Cardinal Sarah,” he wrote. 

“Natürlich progressives could never be guilty of such a sin and crime, but these words sure do suggest soft racism, the racism of elite white Western paternalism,” he added. 

African prelates have gained a solid reputation for being strong defenders of Catholic sexual morality because of their unwavering orthodox input into the recently concluded Synod on the Family in Rome. 

At one point during the Synod, Cardinal Robert Sarah urged Catholic leaders to recognize as the greatest modern enemies of the family what he called the twin “demonic” “apocalyptic beasts” of “the idolatry of Western freedom” and “Islamic fundamentalism.”

STORY: Cardinal Danneels warns African bishops to avoid ‘triumphalism’

“What Nazi-Fascism and Communism were in the 20th century, Western homosexual and abortion ideologies and Islamic fanaticism are today,” he said during his speech at the Synod last month. 

But African prelates’ adherence to orthodoxy has earned them enemies, especially from the camp of Western prelates bent on forming the Catholic Church in their own image and likeness, not according to Scripture, tradition, and the teaching magisterium of the Church. 

During last year’s Synod, German Cardinal Walter Kasper went as far as stating that the voice of African Catholics in the area of Church teaching on homosexuality should simply be dismissed.

African cardinals “should not tell us too much what we have to do,” he said in an October 2014 interview with ZENIT, adding that African countries are "very different, especially about gays.” 

Earlier this month Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels, instead of praising Africa for its vibrant and flourishing Catholicism, said that African prelates will one day have to look to Europe to get what he called “useful tips” on how to deal with “secularization” and “individualism.” 

The statement was criticized by one pro-family advocate as “patronizing of the worst kind” in light of the facts that numerous European churches are practically empty, vocations to the priesthood and religious life are stagnant, and the Catholic faith in Europe, especially in Belgium, is overall in decline.

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