Valedictorian Rips Up School-Approved Graduation Speech… and Says the Lord’s Prayer Instead

Take South Carolina, a school named Liberty, and a Christian valedictorian… and mix them all together.

What do you think’s gonna happen at graduation?

Prayer, of course.

And not just a brief thanks to God, but a full-out Lord’s Prayer:

The backstory to this is well worth exploring. Back in February, the Freedom From Religion Foundation told the School District of Pickens County that it had to stop the student-led religious invocations at school board meetings.

The locals weren’t happy, so they gathered around the flagpole… because they had nothing better to do:

(via The Easley Progress)

The board eventually voted to keep a non-Sectarian prayer… which didn’t really fix much of anything.

This is the district that’s home to Liberty High School. A place where Jews and atheists and Muslims are not welcome because of a Christian majority that can’t stop “loving” everyone else.

For graduation, Liberty replaced an illegal prayer with a moment of silence. And it also had student speakers submit their speeches to the administration for approval.

When Roy Costner got up on stage, he took out his approved speech and just ripped it up. According to Costner’s own website (in which he appears to writes about himself in the third person):

LHS Class of 2013 Valedictorian Roy Costner added The Lord’s prayer into his speech after ripping up his old speech on stage saying, “Mrs. Gwinn had somehow approved his speech (the one ripped), so I will have to use a different one!” When he arrived to The Lord’s prayer into his speech, this received a huge cheer/excitement and emotion from the crowd.

It was such an amazing moment! Looking out and seeing all of the family, friends, and mentors in the coliseum clapping and some even standing.

“We serve an amazing God and I can promise everyone there was absolutely nothing special I did! God chose to show out and without his courage I don’t think I could have made it through His prayer from the overwhelming reaction the crowd gave bringing tears to my eyes.

I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say the non-Christian kids in the crowd had a much tougher time at graduation than the Christian on stage who thinks he did something heroic or rebellious.

As one commenter on a news website said, “The straight, white, able-bodied Christian man said a prayer out loud in South Carolina! SO BRAVE.”

The district said Costner won’t be punished for the prayer. That’s where the problem really lies. The school’s not really in the wrong here since it appears they couldn’t have stopped him… but is this legal? Is this the loophole Christians have been searching for?

The First Amendment Center says the case law on this matter is murky at best:

… there is a risk for school officials in this approach. By creating a limited open forum for student speech, the school may have to accept almost anything the student wishes to say. Although the school would not be required to allow speech that was profane, sexually explicit, defamatory, or disruptive, the speech could include political or religious views offensive to many, as well as speech critical of school officials.

That’s the real question here. If Costner had denounced President Obama, or spent time talking about the necessity of abortion, or starting swearing up a storm, would anyone have stepped in to stop him?

Would he have been punished if he talked about why God doesn’t exist?

It seems like his pro-religious speech got special treatment. And if the school wants to avoid a lawsuit in the future, the only solution for them may be to ban all student speakers at future graduations.

(Thanks to Sarah for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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