Saturday, September 1, 2007

Seperation Of Church And State - The Other Side Of The Coin

I have discussed, in detail, separation of church and state, and why the government needs to remain neutral towards religion. In a lot of cases, the abuses come when the government tries to inject the religious realm into the realm of government. However, on the other side of the coin, sometimes government inappropriately silences the religious viewpoints of its citizens, which also violates the separation of church and state. The case below is one of those situations.

In 2006 Erica Corder was one of 15 valedictorians at Denver's Lewis-Palmer High School that was given the opportunity to make a 30 second speech. During her speech, Erica made the following comment, "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 I personally encourage you to find out more about the sacrifice he made for you." It is important to note that the comment was not a part of the speech that she had submitted before the graduation.

As a result of the comment, the principal informed her that she would not receive her diploma until she apologized. The apology that she authored for the principal stated, "I'm sorry I didn't share my plans with Mr. Brewer or the other valedictorians ahead of time." The principal, however, refused to accept the statement until it included the following, "I realize that, had I asked ahead of time, I would not have been allowed to say what I did." Once she added this phrase she was granted her diploma. However, she decided to file suit claiming she was not given instructions ahead of time as to what was appropriate in her speech. She is asking for the district to clarify its speech guidelines and issue a statement that she did nothing wrong. She is not seeking any compensatory damages.

Lets be honest here for a minute. It certainly appears that the reason she did not include the religious remark in her speech is she knew it would not have been accepted, and she thought she could just sneak it in. If this is indeed the case, one has to wonder if she noticed the irony in her witnessing by deception, after all, the Bible prohibits lying. The appearance of deception here will, most likely, result is the loss of her case. However, this case does illustrate a point that I feel is important.

The First Amendment's separation of church and state is a vital part of our Constitution. It restricts the state from positions that either favor or oppose certain belief systems. There are many ways that the above statement would be inappropriate, for example if it were made by a school employee, or made by a student at a compulsory activity, or in some way endorsed by the school. However, none of these are the case. This was a statement of faith given by a student, with no endorsement by the school, as part of a brief graduation speech at a ceremony where no one was compelled to attend. While some restrictions on speech of students in the school setting is permissible and Constitutional, we need to remember that kids do not check their rights at the door.

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