Christian Valedictorian Who Spoke About Jesus Responds

I mentioned the story of Erica Corder a couple days ago — she’s the high school valedictorian who submitted her graduation speech in advance to school officials, as their rules dictated. But when graduation took place, she broke from the pre-written speech and talked about Jesus instead.

Long story short, the principal made her apologize. She did, then she sued. A court threw out the case. She appealed. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week in favor of the school officials (PDF).

Erica is now a student at Wheaton College in Illinois. I had a chance to ask Erica a few questions about her case. Her responses are below:

Hemant: Will you take this case any further? Try for the Supreme Court?

Erica: I have not decided if I will take this case any further.

Hemant: Do you feel the school reprimanded you because you spoke about your Christian faith or for other reasons? Do you think you would’ve been forced to apologize if you had spoken about, say, your non-Christian faith or your atheism?

Erica: I do believe that the school reprimanded me for my Christian faith, but also bc I did not inform them of what I was going to say ahead of time. However, I was told that if I had asked permission I would not have been allowed to say what I did. I doubt that the situation would have been handled the same if I had not used Jesus’ name.

Hemant: Has this case affected you in any way in college?

Erica: This case has not affected me much in college. I did not file the case for myself but for the benefit of future [Lewis-Palmer High School] students. My hope is that, in the future, students will not be punished for sharing their own beliefs at graduation.

Hemant: Are you still a vocal advocate for Christianity?

Erica: Yes, I am still a vocal advocate for Jesus. I enjoy sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with those who do not know Him :)

Hemant: If you could do it again, would you have given the same speech?

Erica: Yes, I think I would give my speech again, if that is what I felt God calling me to do.


  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Maybe she will end up being a high-school teacher and take the kids to the Creation Museum to expose them to “Christian” science… that is, if God tells her to.

  • Polly

    It seems hypocritical to have students speak and then censor them. While a public school is not a public forum, I don’t like telling students what they can or cannot say – as long as it’s relevant to the event. It’s likely that she would have tied in her religion with her scholastic success or her future plans.

  • http://auryn29a.livejournal.com Auryn

    I am now getting a mental image of her Jesus-rolling random conversations because God told her to. Yes, it’s an amusing image.

  • http://primesequence.blogspot.com/ PrimeNumbers

    God tells kids to break the rules. I thought they were to render unto Caesar?

    Is this the new form of “I was only obeying orders!”?

  • Tony

    I’m just terribly frightened by the notion of people doing things because “god tells” them to do it. It has extremely chilling ramifications. God telling you to mention Jesus in a graduation speech is relatively benign. But what happens when God tells you to cut a stranger’s head off?

  • Arlo

    “if that is what I felt God calling me to do”

    At least she doesn’t think god is LITERALLY telling her things.

  • littlejohn

    Why do high school kids give graduation addresses anyway? I’ve never met an 18-year-old whose ideas and thoughts are fully formed. If I had given a speech at that age, I would cringe if forced to read it a decade later. Just give the kids their diplomas and send them off to McDonald’s to begin their careers.

  • http://steelmansmusings.blogspot.com Steelman

    “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.”
    - Grace Hopper

    Or you can just skip the forgiveness and go straight for the law suit. :)

  • http://vinodkhare.blogspot.com Vinod Khare

    I’m sorry but am I the only one who feels that the girl was wronged? I do no agree with her ideas but that doesn’t mean that I would silence or censor her out.

  • sc0tt

    I doubt that the situation would have been handled the same if I had not used Jesus’ name.

    Ah, the persecuted Christian angle. Let’s imagine another scenario; student turns in a conventional uncontroversial speech for approval and then when show time comes does five minutes on gay rights or a secular pledge of allegiance. I doubt the situation would have been handled any differently.

    Ms. Corder knew exactly what she was doing and knew why it was wrong and rather than benefitting future students at her high school, may have stripped them of the opportunity to say anything at all when their turn comes.

  • http://dubiositysite.blogspot.com Bevans

    Heh, just imagine what would’ve happened if she had said something atheist-themed, or islam-themed.

  • Richard Wade

    The questions that I would like to ask Ms. Corder are:

    1.) You broke your agreement with the school officials by not informing them correctly of the content of your speech, and by submitting a speech draft to them that you had no intention of following, you lied to them.

    My first question is, Ms. Corder, do you think that your religion gives you license to break your agreements with people and to lie, and if so, why?

    2.) You said that if you felt that God was calling you to do the same thing again, you would do it again.

    Then my second, multiple facet question is this: How far does that willingness to break agreements and to lie on God’s behalf go? You have already shown that you are willing to break rules of interpersonal ethics. Are you also willing to break rules of professional ethics as well? Ethics that govern teachers, counselors, doctors, journalists, lawyers, and many others who hold the safety and well being of the public in their hands? Would you be willing to break the law? Laws that protect people from slander, libel, fraud, abuse, robbery, violence and murder?

    Once you cross the line of being willing to lie and cheat for God, where else, if anywhere, will you draw the line again?

    Ms. Corder, you are now attending Wheaton College, and presumably your education will bring you into a profession or some other position of trust, power and influence, where people whom you serve will be depending on you to follow ethical rules and the law. If you are going to be expedient about those rules and laws, because you think that a voice in your head trumps those rules and laws, then I strongly urge you to not go into any of those positions of trust, power and influence.

    Lying and breaking agreements is not witnessing your faith well.

  • http://primesequence.blogspot.com/ PrimeNumbers

    Richard – when you put it like that it’s a great example of how religion makes you less moral. 1) you tell lies. 2) you don’t accept responsibility for your actions and pass the blame onto you imaginary friend.

  • atomjack

    @PrimeNumbers: Indeed, look where that statement got Eichman.

    @Tony: Daniel Pearl comes to mind.

    Yes, anyone who claims they are doing something for a deity or an authority figure is trying to absolve themselves of the responsibility of the act. The girl is acting like a twit, and I personally hope she grows up, but xtians acting like they usually do, I hold little hope.

  • «bønez_brigade»

    Erica: I do believe that the school reprimanded me for my Christian faith, but also bc I did not inform them of what I was going to say ahead of time.

    Well, Erica, which is it? Were you persecuted for having an imaginary friend named Jesus, or were you reprimanded for being dishonest?

    BTW, according to the Way of the Master peoplez (y’know, the real, true Christians™), even a little “white lie” still makes you a liar in God’s eyes and is on equal footing with the other eternal-torture-worthy Commandments. Just ask Ray Comfort (or Kirk Cameron, or Todd Freil, or…).

    BTW, the Flying Spaghetti Monster called on me to write all of that.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    I don’t see this situation as that clear-cut. The principal stated that she wouldn’t have been allowed to give the Christian speech if she submitted it in advance. If a school told students that they could give a speech, and then didn’t allow a speech that supported gay marriage, I would feel the school was wrong. It’s arguably a violation of the student’s free speech (although court decisions are generally against students in these sorts of situations). But even if it’s a legally valid rule, I don’t have much respect for a system that allows students to speak, and then censors them based on their content, and don’t really have a problem with breaking this rule.

  • Eliza

    Why couldn’t someone like her simply silently beam thoughts of Jesus to the audience? (Or, as C’s might put it, Pray for the Unsaved to Accept Jesus?) Without standing up at the podium as a valedictorian (& wasting everyone’s time, IMO).

    Why wouldn’t that do the trick? (in her version of reality, at least)

  • Richard Wade

    Autumnal Harvest,
    I agree with you about the school’s conflicted stance, and I don’t have that much sympathy for the school. I think the school had the right and responsibility to review what the valedictorians were planning to say in their 30 seconds, but the school should only have objected to the speeches’ content if they were really outrageous or vulgar. Ms. Corder’s speech was heavily religious, perhaps annoying to more secular folks, but I don’t think it was outrageous or vulgar. It was one half minute cliche out of a total of 15 half minute speeches. The worst reaction it probably got was some people rolling their eyes and being glad that she only had 30 seconds.

    But to me, that is not the issue here, and I’m not talking about the Appellate Court’s decision either. I’m talking about Ms. Corbin’s personal conduct and ethical fiber.

    Unfair rule or not, the issue is that Ms. Corder chose to deceive the school, she lied, she broke the rule and she got the consequences. When you break a rule or your agreement with others, regardless of the valid justification you may have, or the vacuous rationalization you cook up in your mind, you still must face the consequences unflinchingly. That is the choice you have made. Rebels may break rules that they find unjust, but they still have to take the punishment.

    There are other ways she could have handled it. She seems to have known ahead of time that her religious mini-speech would raise objections. If she had submitted an accurate draft of her intended speech, she might have been able to negotiate with the school, discuss their concerns with them and perhaps could have come up with some mutually acceptable solution. Or if the school remained adamant, she could have refused to speak at all, and publicized her protest in the local paper, putting the embarrassment on the school and putting herself in the righteous role.

    Instead, she put herself into the questionable position of at the very least implying that her religion sanctifies lying and breaking agreements, and then later in her interview with Hemant above, she stated that she’d do it again if she felt that God was calling her to do that. That remark raises a host of other objectionable implications that are much more alarming than her original tort.

  • Stephen P

    I think Richard has nailed it well; I also share Littlejohns puzzlement as to why students are expected to give graduation addresses anyway.

    What I would like to know, is how Ms Corder would have felt if another student had (equally deceitfully) delivered an address on how Islam was the one true religion, and whether she would have defended that other student’s action.

  • mkb

    I’m going to skip over ethics, law, her position, the school’s position and just get to the point — what she did was rude and selfish. She had a captive audience. No one was there because they wanted to hear her talk (okay, maybe her parents). She willfully offended many of the people in the audience for no reason other than to gratify her ego (I am a servant of God). Why does this offend me so? Because the one student who spoke at my high school graduation 35 years ago gave a long-winded come to Jesus talk. It ruined the day for me.

  • Jonathan

    As a Christian, I would have to agree with Mkb on this one. She basically lied to do what she thought was best. Two problems with that: lying is only good if you are trying to save someone’s life and two, she forgot that for a Christian, the end never justifies the means.

  • anonymouse

    Little John-
    High School kids are just as much people as you and me. When I was 18 I was just starting to educate myself about feminism and other things that are very important to me. Just because they are young doesn’t mean they shouldn’t speak. We shouldn’t be so cynical.

    The point is that she had one speech approved and totally derailed off-topic.

  • gringo

    If she were to espouse her atheism I am sure there would have been an uproar.

    Rules are rules and she broke them. She not only deviated from them but she also lied.

    She took it to court and she lost.

    Again, had she espoused her belief in Islam, FSM or anything else there likely would have been an uproar and the Christians would have been leading the charge.

    She not only broke the rules, but she lied. Shame on her.

    And what a waste of taxpayer dollars by taking it to court.

  • http://no2religion.blogspot.com no2religion

    Hemant: Has this case affected you in any way in college?

    Since Wheaton is a primarily fundagelical christian college I don’t see why it would affect her in a negative way.

  • AxeGrrl

    Richard Wade wrote:

    There are other ways she could have handled it. She seems to have known ahead of time that her religious mini-speech would raise objections. If she had submitted an accurate draft of her intended speech, she might have been able to negotiate with the school, discuss their concerns with them and perhaps could have come up with some mutually acceptable solution. Or if the school remained adamant, she could have refused to speak at all, and publicized her protest in the local paper, putting the embarrassment on the school and putting herself in the righteous role.

    Instead, she put herself into the questionable position of at the very least implying that her religion sanctifies lying and breaking agreements, and then later in her interview with Hemant above, she stated that she’d do it again if she felt that God was calling her to do that. That remark raises a host of other objectionable implications that are much more alarming than her original tort.

    This.

  • Tom in Iowa

    I think the biggest thing Erica missed was the selection of her venue. As if anyone remembers what ANYONE says at a HS graduation.

    Having recently attended a HS graduation where 4 students got to speak for a minute or two each – I couldn’t begin to tell you what any of them said. All my graduating daughter could recall is that one of them cried.

    I do remember that it was hot and stuffy in the gym, and my butt was going numb from sitting too long, but not the content of any of the speeches.

  • http://www.banalleakage.com martymankins

    Once again, Richard Wade’s response is spot on. It wasn’t what she said, but rather the rule and agreement that compromised her ethics.

    I think if she would have been honest and up front and came to a compromise with the school, they would not have had any issue with a speech that wasn’t outright preachy, but able to mention her beliefs in how they helped her in school.

  • http://peacefulatheist.wordpress.com Lily

    I just saw this while catching up with blog reading. I knew Erica at Wheaton (in passing), and had a class with her in which she gave a speech about her high school graduation speech. She said she had been planning it for a long time and felt that God had been leading her to say it. As much as I think it was a stupid thing to do and the school’s response was entirely lenient, I can kind of understand the mindset of following God no matter what. After all, the only reason I went to Wheaton College was because I thought God wanted me to. Thank God he didn’t tell me I was going to become an atheist there.

    This brings up another Wheaton student who sued his high school at about the same time. Chase Harper was suspended from his public high school in 2006 for wearing a shirt that said “homosexuality is shameful” in protest on the Day of Silence. He then founded the Day of Truth together with the Alliance Defense Fund in response.

    Chase was featured on the front page of the Wheaton student newspaper during his freshman year (my senior year), along with a photo of him wearing the black t-shirt with “homosexuality is shameful” written on white masking tape across the front. An hour after the newspaper came out, I was stomping through the student center in anger. To my delight, on the student bulletin board was a huge poster board cut-out of a black t-shirt with a masking tape label that said “Chase Harper is shameful”. An hour later it was gone, but I was so glad to have seen it before it was taken down. It gave me hope that not all of my classmates were douchebags.

  • gribblethemunchkin

    Richard Wade knocks it out the park, excellent rebuttal to the nutty Erica.

    The problem with Ericas mindset is that she believes that god trumps everything else. Indeed what true believer would not. People like Torqemarda could engage in the most horrific acts because they honestly believed they were saving peoples souls. Terrorists can perform suicide bombings because they believe they are doing the right thing.

    How could you trust a woman like Erica if you knew that she would happily break agreements and rules if she thought the voice in her head wanted her too.

  • David Matte

    There’s no reason to take a good cause for celebration and turn it into a divisive piece of sectarian crap where you get to spew your moral high ground.


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