Last week, the valedictorian of a high school in South Carolina made national news by “defiantly” tearing up his state-approved speech and instead delivering remarks that more truly reflect what he wanted to say to his classmates and to the community at large. Those remarks included a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, which is recorded in Matthew 6.
The response to the address by Roy Costner of Liberty High School has been enormous, much of it positive. The 18-year-old has, of course, faced criticism for his public stance, as one might expect.
The student’s bold act, respectfully if somewhat nervously delivered, gained a national hearing. It was featured on the Drudge Report and by several other media outlets. A surprised Costner was interviewed by CNN’s Brooke Baldwin and Fox News’ Megyn Kelly.
As I write, a YouTube video of the entire address has been viewed more than 230,000 times. A shorter video of the valedictorian reciting the Lord’s Prayer has garnered more than 748,000 views.
Particularly upset about all of this is an atheist organization called the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), based in Madison, Wisconsin.
After Costner’s speech, the FFRF thundered: “The valedictorian who so insensitively inflicted Christian prayer on a captive audience at a secular graduation ceremony is a product of a school district which itself has set an unconstitutional example by hosting school board prayer.”
This atheistic angst is unconvincing — and extremist, I might add. If one consults the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, for example, it is patently clear that reciting the Lord’s Prayer at a public school stands entirely within the founding and defining American mainstream.
That mainstream locates the center of gravity of human freedom in the Creator, who is respected as the transcendent source of unalienable human rights. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” states the Declaration.
In addition, the First Amendment places a limit on what Congress can do, not on what local schools (or students, parents, officials, etc.) in the diversity of states can do. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” says the First Amendment.
The First Amendment is intended to prevent the federal government from establishing a national state ecclesiastical structure — something that England had when the Constitution was drafted. There is to be no national Catholic, Baptist, or Presbyterian state church.
The individual states, however, remain free to pursue policies they desire in this area. In addition, the people of the individual states and of the nation are in no way to be discouraged from acknowledging — and publicly acting upon that acknowledgement — the very Creator who is rather publicly affirmed in the Declaration as the source of unalienable human rights in the first place.