Administrators at one Colorado college tried to force a nursing student to scrub any references to Jesus and the Bible from her graduation speech. Then she reached out to a Christian legal firm, and the school changed its tune.
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At the request of her fellow classmates, Karissa Erickson was slated to deliver the address at a pinning ceremony for the nursing graduates at Colorado Mesa University, The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reported. The event was scheduled for the Friday night before the main graduation ceremony.
Everything was set — then CMU staff read Erickson’s speech notes. Administrators at the Grand Junction-based college took issue with the graduate’s faith-based references, according to a May 4 letter from Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the religious liberty firm representing Erickson.
Erickson was poised to share a story about overcoming adversity, reminding her fellow classmates that “God always has a purpose.” She continued:
I find comfort in Jesus’ 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 comfort, I have overcome the world.’
Someone on staff at CMU allegedly reached out to Erickson, telling her to remove her reference to Jesus and the Scripture she planned to read because “speeches should be free of any one religious slant” and “some people don’t appreciate those references.”
CMU officials reportedly told Erickson there would be “repercussions” if she didn’t pull the Christian references from her speech.
Apparently, some years ago, a group of students was offended when Bibles were distributed on campus, ADF’s letter explained. And as a result of the “ensuing negative publicity” the school received, the university decided to no longer allow “Bible verses or remarks about any specific religion because someone might be offended.”
But then she fought back.
Rather than submitting to CMU’s clearly discriminatory policy, Erickson took action. She contacted ADF, and once the Colorado school received the legal firm’s letter, administrators were forced to back down.
“When they were confronted with what the law required, they quickly backtracked and allowed the student to speak freely,” ADF attorney Travis Barham said. “I am genuinely impressed the university corrected its actions so quickly.”
Dana Nunn, a spokeswoman for CMU, told the Sentinel the university administrators were “trying to do the right thing, but made a mistake,” referring to the effort to censor Erickson’s speech.
She described the altercation as a “well-intentioned misunderstanding,” noting people interpret the separation of church and state differently. Nunn added, “The faculty member that initially asked for the change was just trying to do the right thing, she was just not correct legally.”