Not What Our Manufacturers of Culture Meant When They Taught Kids to Parrot “Question Authority”

Student Fights the Power:

A South Carolina valedictorian garnered wild applause after he ripped up his pre-approved speech and delivered the Lord’s prayer at his high school graduation on Saturday.

The act was apparently in protest of the Pickens County School District’s decision to no longer include prayer at graduation ceremonies, Christian News reported. Officials said the decision was made after the district was barraged with complaints by atheist groups.

But that didn’t stop Roy Costner IV of Liberty High School. He ripped up his graduation speech for all to see, before he started talking about his Christian upbringing, Christian News reported.

“Those that we look up to, they have helped carve and mold us into the young adults that we are today,” he said. “I’m so glad that both of my parents led me to the Lord at a young age.”

“And I think most of you will understand when I say…” he paused. “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name…”

The auditorium began to erupt with applause and cheers.

Of course, they get a quote from the humiliated and butthurt atheist who calls this refusal to knuckle under to his oppressive and draconian attack on free speech “religious bullying”. Boo hoo. This is, in no conceivable sense, an attempt to establish religion by the state. Nor is it even an attempt to tell atheists what they have to do and believe. It is, in the most exact sense, an act of resistance to the real bullies: the atheists. This was a free person giving voice not only to his deepest convictions, but the convictions of a whole community of people stifled by censorious atheists using a state apparatus to crush free speech. It was an act of revolt against tyrannical thought police. I think it was a glorious thing for that kid to do. Bravo, kid!

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  • Rosemarie


    The Founding Fathers had no problem with prayers at public events; even every session of Congress begins with a prayer. The Establishment Clause has been massively misunderstood and misapplied, beyond what the Founding Fathers ever intended.

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…”

    To whom does this clause apply? Congress. Not a school system, not a valedictorian, etc. It applies to the *U.S. Congress*.

    What is prohibited? The passing of a particular law. What law is a valedictorian passing? None. (He’s not the Legislative Branch of gov’t anyway so he can’t pass laws or transgress this clause in any way.)

    What is the nature of the proscribed law? One regarding an “establishment of religion.” What does that mean? It means establishing an official religion of the United States, the way the Church of England was the established religion of England at the time (still is, but there is more freedom for other religions there now than there was then).

    How is a valedictorian praying at a graduation equivalent to Congress passing a law that says, for instance, “Henceforth, the Southern Baptist Convention* shall be known as the Church of the United States, the President shall be the head of this church and a portion of taxes shall go to support it”?

    It’s not.

    The Founding Fathers didn’t object to prayer because they made a distinction between God and religion. They believed in a Creator/Providence and had no problem with public prayer to Him, but simply did not want the government telling people what religion they must embrace and persecuting those who belong to the “wrong” religion.

    Modern atheist activists don’t make this distinction; they consider any acknowledgement of a Deity equivalent to religion. The Founding Fathers didn’t see it that way. (It’s also ironic in a time when increasing numbers of people believe in God without adhering to organized religion: “I’m spiritual not religious….”)

    The Establishment Clause has been turned against religious people in practice lately, sometimes even to the point of encroaching on the Free Exercise clause that follows it. Actually, both clauses were meant to pull the reins in on *government* and increase the freedom of the American people, not pull the reins in on the American people’s right to pray in public and such.

    Isn’t that the purpose of the Bill of Rights? To delineate the limits of the federal government so that it doesn’t encroach on the freedoms of the people? Sad that it has been used against the people.

    *I chose the SBC simply because it’s the biggest Protestant denom in the US.

    • kenofken

      The Establishment Clause has been incorporated to be binding on the states since 1947, and every court since that time has recognized that its protections are much broader than preventing the establishment of an official state religion.

      The details are always in flux, but the First Amendment has been construed to mean, among other things, that government cannot privilege one religion over another, or over atheism for that matter. This high school kid’s actions do nothing to establish a religion. He is a private citizen speaking in what arguably is an open forum. My gut tells me that any student who would have went off-script to promote another religion or idea would have been punished, but we have no way of knowing for sure. I very much doubt that this kid’s speech was truly impromptu or that it caught school officials by surprise.

      The prior actions of the school board absolutely were intended to establish a religion. Their pre-meeting prayers were done for the primary purpose of marking territory and sending the message that “Christianity owns this space. Get used to it.” That is beyond dispute. Board members and community members in this case and hundreds of others like it boast about their true intent. This kid’s prayer had nothing to do with the love of his own god. It was a way to give the finger to a hated minority who had the temerity to enforce the Constitution in a place where it wasn’t wanted.

      • Rosemarie


        >>>The Establishment Clause has been incorporated to be binding on the states since 1947, and every court since that time has recognized that its protections are much broader than preventing the establishment of an official state religion.

        I’m talking about how the Founding Fathers understood the First Amendment, not how it came to be interpreted later on. I’m not convinced that courts have always rightly interpreted the Constitution; the Founding Fathers would most likely disagree with a lot of those interpretations were they still alive today.

        >>>This kid’s prayer had nothing to do with the love of his own god. It was a way to give the finger to a hated minority who had the temerity to enforce the Constitution in a place where it wasn’t wanted.

        In previous posts, you’ve argued that gays aren’t seeking rights in order to corrupt our children and deprive us of our rights, but just because they’re human beings who want to live their lives free from hatred and harassment. Okay, but then can’t you extend the same understanding to people like the valedictorian? Maybe he wasn’t trying to oppress a “hated minority,” but just saying, “Hey, my faith means a lot to me and I want to be able to say that without being muzzled by political correctness.” Don’t you think that’s possible?

        • kenofken

          The Founding Fathers, awesome as they were, were not gods whose word was binding for all time. In any case, they, and not the ACLU or atheists, conceived of the “Wall of Separation” concept.

          My problem in this story is not with the valedictorian, but with the school board. The core issue revolved around pre-meeting prayers, and the board’s practice in that area was blatantly unconstitutional. In backing off of that practice, probably under the advice of their attorneys, they decided to ban prayers at the graduation too.

          That’s a murkier area of the law. Some courts say that its ok as long as it is truly voluntary and initiated purely by the students, not the school. Others say that even student led prayer, in captive settings like a graduation ceremony or big school event, has a coercive element to it. I can see both sides on this issue. As long as no favoritism is shown, I don’t have a problem with a student expressing their own faith.

          The test for me is whether a Muslim student or for that matter, an atheist, would get the same free hand as valedictorian. Unfortunately that’s not what most “freedom of religion” advocates have in mind. Their demonstrated, and often admitted intent is to demand exclusive sectarian Christian ownership of civic space and government. For them, “freedom” of religion is about triumphalism and having the imprimatur of government to rub other’s faces in their beliefs. That is repugnant not only to the Constitution, but also to the core of the Gospels say faith and prayer were supposed to be about.

          • Rosemarie


            >>>The Founding Fathers, awesome as they were, were not gods whose word was binding for all time

            Not gods, no, but they were intelligent and carefully built a system (not perfect, but still good) intended to rein in government and leave much room for personal freedoms. The further we get from their original intent, the bigger government gets and our freedoms start to shrink.

            >>>In any case, they, and not the ACLU or atheists, conceived of the “Wall of Separation” concept.

            By which they meant that the State cannot interfere in the affairs of the Church, not that ones personal religious faith cannot assert itself in the public square but must only hide behind the walls of houses of worship. If the ACLU and militant atheist organizations had their way, they would drive religion out of public view or influence as much as possible.

            >>>The test for me is whether a Muslim student or for that matter, an atheist, would get the same free hand as valedictorian.

            Don’t know about an atheist, but a Muslim student would most likely be given free hand. No one wants to offend that particular religion nowadays.

          • Given the number of times that the US Supreme Court has had to do “take backs” on a number of issues, it is plain to see that they are also not gods. Just for the record, there is but one God.

            The fundamental problem in these public school situations is you have an institution that is essentially ruled by fear and intimidation and at the end, by tradition, the best student of the year gets to make a speech. Without censorship, a great many expletives and score settling would litter most of these speeches because so many of these kids have been scarred by the system, even the best of them. So the first problem is that the 1st amendment is being trampled on out of a sense of sheer bureaucratic self-preservation due to the malpractice of the current system. Arguing that one particular type of malpractice is odious is fine, as far as it goes. It does miss the larger issue though.

      • If the hated minority is the government authority who censored the valedictorian’s speech, you have it somewhat correct.

        Go take a look at and you’ll understand something of the bigger issues. Kicking God out is only a small portion of the problems of school.

        • kenofken

          The overarching questions of the public school system as a whole are much bigger than the Establishment Clause debate.

          • Isn’t that what I just said? God is an incidental casualty of a poorly adapted system. But until we fix the system overall, we’re unlikely to get the establishment clause section correct.

            • kenofken

              I’m sure you and I disagree deeply about what “getting the establishment clause correct” entails. I think the overall shape of it is already correct, but there needs to be more clarity. Government and related public entities like schools simply have no business promoting one religion over another, whether through official state religion or the much more subtle and insidious practices which selectively celebrate “freedom of religion.” Schools are not there for religious indoctrination or formation. They’re there to instill reasoning and technical competence students will need to function and earn a living as adults.

              Students have, by my calculations, upwards of 4,800 hours per year outside of class and sleep time in which to learn their family’s religion. I don’t think students need to deny their faith or all expression of it within the school day, but much of the movement which fixates on that expression is clearly interested in government-sponsored proselytizing, not legitimate personal expression.

              • Where you and I disagree most fundamentally is that you think religion is something to be learned like English or math and I think it should be learned like breathing or swallowing. Your proposal makes perfect sense for a subjects like English or Math but is nonsense if you put religion in the position of centrality that, say walking has.

                In the end you will likely be perpetually puzzled why your sensible segregation topics go nowhere with the seriously religious and name us culture warriors when the real issue is that you see religion as something periodic and we see it as immersive.

  • kenofken

    An act of bravery? This was a cheesy publicity stunt manufactured by local (and probably national) culture warriors who coached him and put him up to this. A Christian says a prayer in public in the heart of the Bible Belt! That sort of courage should put the Egyptian Copts or Iraqi Christians to shame! This whole thing was contrived to stoke the tired, and patently false, narrative that says Christians are persecuted anytime they have to follow the law or share the public space in any way.

    This kid’s speech is probably Constitutional. The problem that led up to this began with the school board, which maintained a practice of opening their meeting exclusively with sectarian Christian prayer. That’s unconstitutional, and they knew that and, under pressure, amended it to comply with the letter, if not the spirit of the law.

    • bear

      “This was a cheesy publicity stunt manufactured by local (and probably national) culture warriors who coached him and put him up to this.”
      Cite your source, please.

    • So what is your opinion of the prior censorship? Do you believe that this was constitutional or unconstitutional?

      • kenofken

        Because students are mostly minors and because the schools have a responsibility for maintaining the learning environment, and even physical safety, schools are not an unabridged free speech forum. Students speaking on behalf of their class at something like a graduation are also representing the school, and can even create a degree of financial liability for the school. That is the apparent reason the speeches were to be pre-approved in this case.

        Personally, I think if the speech doesn’t involve profanity or some real threat to disorder, it ought not to be censored on content. As I say my standard is equality. If a school demonstrates that it is willing to let a Muslim or atheist or pagan talk about their religious inspiration at graduation, then of course the same should apply to Christians. When “freedom of religion” is used as a sock puppet for promoting one form of Christianity, as is almost always the case, then no, it’s not constitutional.

        • Did you even notice that you didn’t actually answer my question? I’ll try again. Do you believe that the school’s attempt at censorship of the speech (prior restraint) was constitutional?

          Guidry v. Broussard, 897 F.2d 181 (5th Cir. 1990) is the only case I could find that addresses the subject of liability and that from the opposing side, saying that the censorship was done at such a low level that it could not reasonably be described as school board policy and thus not actionable on first amendment grounds.

          I would suggest that a simple, tasteful notice in the program that students’ speeches are not statements of policy would be sufficient for liability purposes. Censorship is both not an effective method (see the original article) nor is it necessary for the liability reasons you suggest.

          • kenofken

            As far as I know, prior review at the high school level is probably constitutional. I’ll admit I don’t know the intricacies of case law where that is concerned. Even if it is constitutional, that doesn’t make it a good idea. For one thing, once the school vets and approves a student’s speech, it assumes a degree of responsibility for the content. By tearing up his approved speech and going ad-lib, Costner actually spared the school from any Establishment Clause liability of what he said. For my money, I’d like to see students say what they want IF there is no game-playing favoring one religion or view over another.

            • So if prior restraint by government officials in the schools is not a good idea then the uncensored private wishes to include prayer would therefore be a good idea and so… what are you protesting again?