Friday, August 01, 2008

Court Upholds School's Objections To Religious Remarks In Graduation Speech

In Corder v. Lewis Palmer School District No. 38, (D CO, July 30, 2008), a Colorado federal district court upheld the actions of a high school principal who, in 2006, forced a student graduation speaker to apologize for including unauthorized religious material in her 30-second portion of a joint graduation speech by 15 valedictorians. Then-student Erica Corder's intentionally excluded the religious portion of her remarks from a draft submitted in advance to the principal, knowing that they would not be approved. Rejecting Corder's First Amendment claims, the court held that:
the valedictorian speech at the school's graduation was not private speech in a limited public forum but rather school-sponsored speech.... Accordingly, school officials were entitled to regulate the content of the speeches in a reasonable manner.... The graduation ceremony clearly bears the imprimatur of the school, as it was sponsored, organized, and supervised by school officials.
The court also held that a Colorado statute declaring that public school students have the right to freedom of speech was intended to apply only to student publications, and, in any event, would not preclude schools from regulating speech that could violate the Establishment Clause. Finally the court concluded that the principal was justified in requiring Corder to apologize, and that this did not amount to unconstitutional coercion of speech. (See prior related posting.)