I’m a Student at Lebanon High School and I Thought My Principal’s Religious Graduation Speech Was Distasteful

Over the weekend, I posted about how Kevin Lowery, the principal of Lebanon High School (Missouri), gave a very unusual greeting speech at graduation. It was full of references to how religious he was and how our currency and motto point to God’s impact and influence on our country.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has already sent the school a letter warning them not to do it again, though I have to say I don’t find it very persuasive when they write, “A reasonable observer would conclude that, as principal, Mr. Lowery’s statements were being endorsed by the school.” His comments seemed to me to be wholly his own — and still completely inappropriate. No non-Christian principal would’ve been able to get away with a speech like that without a national uproar. (I’m not quite ready to surrender to Jerry Coyne just yet…)

Yesterday, I heard from a current student at Lebanon High School who attended that ceremony. She preferred to remain anonymous (for good reason, as you’ll see below), though I was able to confirm that she is indeed a student there.

Her (edited) message is below:

I’ve lived in Lebanon, Missouri for all my seventeen years of life. I was raised in a very liberal, open-minded home, which I’d venture to say is different from 98% of the other students at my school. Neither my parents nor myself are religious, something that definitely stands out in this town. I’ve always been criticized for my beliefs (or lack thereof) so Lowery’s speech was not a first for me. Ever since I was young, I’ve been preached to, dragged to church by grandparents who were — and still are — convinced I’ll burn in hell for not attending, and bullied for being different. I’ve always stood firmly by my beliefs, and, quite frankly, I’m used to the discrimination.

As I sat and listened to my principal deliver the speech at my best friend’s graduation, I took it with a grain of salt and an eye roll. This is the same stuff I hear every day. While at first, I wasn’t deeply offended, I soon realized that the Muslim foreign exchange students probably didn’t like it very much, especially when their host families and classmates applauded the speech. For someone who is supposed to be a leader — a government paid leader at that — it sure was an arrogant and distasteful thing to do.

It wasn’t until I shared the link to the story on “The Blaze” to my Facebook page that I was truly bothered by the issue. My Facebook friends instantly started attacking me for my opinion.

(But don’t worry. It’s okay because their comments all ended with “I’m praying for you!”)

I’ll end this by saying thank you for bringing this issue to light. This town may be doomed to close-mindedness forever, but when there are people like you in far more accepting parts of our nation that are willing to take a stand, I definitely have hope for a better future. While I can’t say I’m a proud LHS student, I thank you for taking concern in my community.

And I thank the student for telling a side of the story you’re not going to hear anywhere else.

So, Principal Lowery, how do you respond to that?

You can ignore atheist bloggers all you want, but this is a student at your school. You took an event that was supposed to be joyous for everyone and turned it into a ceremony for the privileged majority.

That’s precisely the type of thing good principals try to avoid.

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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