Greenwood High School Valedictorian Eric Workman Stands Up For Separation Of Church And State

Thanks to Hemant Mehta of the Friendly Atheist, here is a portion of  the inspiring speech from the valedictorian of Greenwood High School, where the school administration let the students vote that they could have a graduation prayer, only to have this plan challenged by the class valedictorian, with whom the courts sided:

You may not agree with my decision to fight for civil liberties, but I expect you to respectfully listen while I elucidate. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution states, in part, that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” This implies that no entity, agent, or facet (however subsidiary) of the government is to ever endorse, promote, or encourage any form of religion or religious doctrine. This, as you may or may not know, includes school-sponsored prayer.

In September of last year, our remarkably doltish administration called upon us all to vote in deciding whether or not we wanted the Constitution of the United States to be flagrantly violated. Understanding the law and knowing right from wrong, I vehemently opposed such an atrocious act from ever taking place. However, my one voice and the voices of others were shouted-down by most of you. Our rights and the law were disregarded. You see, subjecting government-endorsed prayer to a majority rule is, in and of itself, unconstitutional, let alone the government approbation of said prayer. Founding Father Thomas Jefferson is quoted as having said, “All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in [most] cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate [them] would be oppression.”

Individual freedoms were subjugated, the United States Constitution was omitted, and most of you were unfazed. I, however, was fazed — I, however, took action to redress this grievance. On March 11th, the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed a lawsuit on my behalf to legally halt any and all school-sanctioned prayer at tonight’s commencement ceremony. On April 30th, Federal District Judge Sarah Evans Barker issued an injunction to do just that. In her ruling, Judge Barker stated that “the degree of school involvement ma[de] it clear that [any graduation] prayer [would] ‘bear the mark of the state,’ and accordingly [transgress] the Constitution.” I solemnly hope that you all do understand that the Greenwood Community School Corporation had its hand in this from the beginning, that the Greenwood Community School Corporation thought (and still likely thinks) it was and is above the law, and that neither the Greenwood Community School Corporation nor any other government entity is above the law. In challenging my lawsuit, the Greenwood Community School Corporation accrued a debt of legal fees and court costs to the ACLU, totaling approximately $18,000. For the School Corporation’s legal representation, you can expect the debt to be exorbitantly greater.

It is rather unfortunate that Joe Farley and his Milquetoast myrmidons chose to allocate funds to battle, in futility, a precedent that has held firmly in law since its issuance from the United States Supreme Court. These tens of thousands of dollars could have been better used to maintain the teaching positions being cut in the coming academic year due to a lack and administrative mismanagement of funds. Nonetheless, $18,000 will be spent appropriately, helping the ACLU to further its mission to protect and defend freedom.

Eric Workman self-identifies as a Christian and insists this was a matter of legal principle.  Read the rest of the speech on the Friendly Atheist site and see footage of the speech and interviews with students here.

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.


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