“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
That’s the Bible verse, John 16:33, that Colorado Mesa
University (CMU) student Karissa Erickson planned to include in her graduation
Karissa had been selected as one of two students to give a
speech at her nursing program’s pinning ceremony in May. As a Christian, she
wanted to acknowledge her faith and the role it plays in her life. After
telling a few funny stories about her experience in the nursing program, she
planned to talk briefly about overcoming adversity, closing with the verse
The only guidelines she had been given for the speech was
that she and the other student who was selected to speak had to keep their
combined remarks to 10 minutes, so she didn’t think her brief expression of
faith would be a problem.
She was wrong.
In reviewing her speech, one official told her that,
“Speeches should be free of any one religious slant.” Another official
threatened her with “repercussions” if she refused to change her speech, saying
the nursing “program will not tolerate [this Christian content].” That same
official explained that a few years earlier some students on campus had been
offended when a religious group had handed out Bibles on campus. Because of the
negative attention from that incident, the university no longer allows
religious remarks or Bible verses because it is “tired of dealing with this and
has no more energy to spend towards it.”
officials have a duty to uphold their students’ constitutional rights – even if
they lack the “energy” to do so.
Suspecting that officials may have violated her
constitutional rights, Karissa reached out to Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF),
and we quickly sent
a letter to university officials on her behalf. We explained that the First
Amendment does not require them to silence all religious references and that it
is unconstitutional for CMU to censor Karissa’s speech because it contains
religious remarks or simply because someone might be offended.
Thankfully, the university
responded quickly and positively to the ADF letter, and Karissa was able to
give her speech – Bible verse and all – at the pinning ceremony on May 11.
“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,” said ADF Senior Counsel and Director of the Center for Academic Freedom
We also applaud Karissa for taking a stand for her faith –
facing an unexpected tribulation at the hands of her university. She may have
graduated, but her actions will ensure that the students to come will also have
the freedom to talk about their faith without fear of censorship.