A nursing graduate at Colorado Mesa University was told she could not mention Jesus or read a Bible verse during remarks she was supposed to deliver at a pinning ceremony.
The university made it clear that references to Jesus would not be tolerated. But they reconsidered after being threatened with a lawsuit by Alliance Defending Freedom.
Karissa Erickson was one of two students selected from the nursing class to deliver remarks at the ceremony. She was instructed to turn in her remarks before the event for an administrative review.
She concluded her remarks with these words:
“God has always has a purpose. I find comfort in Jesus’s words, and I pass them on to you. John 16:33. ‘These things I have spoken to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage, I have overcome the world.’”
Ms. Erickson was told by three university officials that they would have to “look into whether it was okay or not to mention religion.”
Two days later, she was instructed in an email to “take out the last section where you start (sic) that you find comfort in Jesus’ words and cite a Bible verse.”
“Speeches should be free of any one religious slant,” one university official told her. “We just have to be professional and careful in a public ceremony as some people don’t appreciate those references.”
Ms. Erickson was also told the university did not allow Bible verses or remarks about any specific religion because “someone might get offended, Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Travis Barham wrote in a letter to the university.
“She (the university official) made it clear that Miss Erickson had to remove references to Jesus and the Bible verse from her speech or ‘there will be repercussions. This program will not tolerate it,’” Barham wrote.
Barham said the university has a fundamental misunderstanding of the First Amendment.
“America’s Founding Fathers regularly opened public ceremonies with prayer, and federal appeals courts have consistently ruled that universities can do the same at their graduation ceremonies,” Barham said in a prepared statement.
Colorado Mesa University came very close to what would have been a very costly and embarrassing legal battle.
“We applaud the university for quickly recognizing that the First Amendment protects a graduating student’s right to mention her faith in her own speech and has never required universities to purge ceremonies of all things religious,” Barham said.