A Colorado university was forced to backtrack after it questionably demanded a student remove Bible passages from a graduation speech she was elected to give by her classmates. Colorado Mesa University nursing student Karissa Erickson was chosen to address graduates at an event days before their commencement this month, but her speech was nearly derailed by school administrators who were concerned about the religious themes of her prepared remarks.
As the Daily Sentinel reported, Erickson was to speak at the CMU nursing program’s pinning ceremony on May 10. Prior to the ceremony, the student was asked to submit her remarks to school officials — though no formal guidelines regarding what could and could not be said were reportedly ever given — and she was soon told that she would not be able to deliver her speech as written because she cited John 16:33. “These things I have spoken to you, that in me you may have peace,” the passage reads. “In the world you have tribulation, but take comfort, I have overcome the world.”
Rather then bend to the school’s threatened “repercussions,” Erickson alerted the Alliance Defending Freedom, a nonprofit based in Scottsdale, Arizona, to the discrimination. The organization sent a letter to CMU administrators on May 4, asking the college to reconsider its position.
According to the letter, which was sent CMU President Tim Foster and other university officials, Erickson was told to remove the Christian themes “because someone might be offended.” As the alliance’s letter states, the concerns likely stem from a 2015 incident the school had with the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which criticized the university for allowing Gideon Bibles to be handed out to students at the pinning ceremony. The practice ceased after an onslaught of “negative publicity.”
“It appears that the officials involved in this matter fundamentally misunderstand what the First Amendment allows and what it requires of them,” the letter reads. “Of course, even if CMU is ‘tired’ or lacks ‘energy,’ it must respect the fundamental constitutional rights of its students, including Miss Erickson.”
After receiving the letter from the alliance, it didn’t take long for CMU to reverse course. University spokesperson Dana Nunn told the Sentinel that the faculty were “trying to do the right thing, but made a mistake” in telling Erickson to remove religious references.
“It was a well-intentioned misunderstanding of what was appropriate,” Nunn said. “I think it’s fair to say that a lot of people have their own interpretations of the separation of church and state, and the faculty member that initially asked for the change was just trying to do the right thing, she was just not correct legally.”
Alliance attorney Travis Barham, meanwhile, is pleased with the quick resolution of the matter, though concerned that universities like CMU are trying to censor students.
“When they were confronted with what the law required, they quickly backtracked and allowed the student to speak freely,” Barham said. “I am genuinely impressed the university corrected its actions so quickly.”