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June 6th, 2013
10:37 AM ET

With his speech, valedictorian brings God to graduation

By Jessica Ravitz, CNN

(CNN) - Leading up to Saturday’s ceremony, Roy Costner IV prayed on what he was going to do. Liberty High School’s 2013 valedictorian would soon find himself in front of a microphone. He’d have a pulpit from which he could address his small community tucked away in South Carolina’s mountainous corner.

Only his father and pastor knew what was weighing on his heart and mind. Could he, should he, insert a prayer in his pre-approved graduation speech? He’d been told by the school principal that talk of religion wasn’t allowed, and so far he’d followed the rules.

But as the day approached, the 18-year-old couldn’t deny what he felt he needed to do.

“I wanted to stand up for God,” he explained Wednesday. “This is what God wanted me to do.”

So Costner, in cap and gown, stood behind the podium and ripped up his original speech. Before he gave shout-outs to coaches, cheerleaders and friends, there was something else he wanted to say.

“One thing I am certain of is we’re all a sum of our experiences, both good and bad,” he told his fellow graduates, a class of about 150. “All in all, those experiences, the people who mentored us, that we look up to, they have helped carve and mold us into the young adults that we are today. I’m so thankful 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, ‘Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name …”

The crowd before him began to cheer as he recited the Lord’s Prayer, drowning out a few verses. The school principal, sitting behind him, appeared uncomfortable and peered down at papers on her lap. The school district’s superintendent, a few seats over, couldn’t help but smile.

“I was tearing up,” Costner said, remembering the moment. “I was overwhelmed by the response. … The clapping was so loud I couldn’t hear myself talking into the microphone.”

His father told CNN's Piers Morgan on Thursday night he was overwhelmed with pride for his son. The younger Costner approached his dad a few days before the speech and showed him what he wanted to do.

"I said, 'Look, if you're doing this for political reasons, don't. But if you're doing it because you feel led to do it and you feel this is a part of your speech, then I want you to do it and I'll stand by you,' " Roy Costner III said.

Some who were there heaped on praise when talking to CNN affiliate WYFF. One called it “pretty impressive.” Another student said it “took a lot of courage” and that “people were proud that he stood up for what he believed in.”

What he believes is that Liberty, a town with three stoplights and a population of 3,000, “fully supports prayer.”

He also believes that organizations such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Madison, Wisconsin, group dedicated to maintaining separation of church and state, should stop meddling in the affairs of the Pickens County School District. The foundation, over this past school year, has leaned on the district to keep Jesus and student-led prayers out of school board meetings.

Other concerns went beyond board meetings. This spring, the foundation’s staff attorney sent a lawyer representing the district a letter about complaints of alleged discriminatory hiring and religious promotion in another county high school and praise music being played in an elementary school classroom. The foundation said it learned of such practices by way of community members who are, in fact, not fully supporting prayer.

Costner said he set out to make a statement, one he hopes will inspire others to stand up, too, for what he sees as the good of this country.

“Taking prayer out of schools is the worst thing we could do,” he said.

If Costner went to a Christian school, there would be no discussion, said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. But in public schools, even in a place where there may be a religious majority, prayers such as his are clearly unconstitutional, she said. What’s more, she added, what he did shows contempt for school district policy and a lack of sensitivity for his audience.

“It’s aggressive. It’s supremely rude,” she said. “This student is old enough to know that not everyone in the audience is Christian.”

But Costner, who was bouncing between interviews and heading to New York for TV appearances, said he counts atheists among his friends. He said that even though he doesn’t agree with their beliefs, he respects them – and that they do the same for him.

The elder Costner said his son had been inundated with messages of support, even from atheists.

He said he thinks the video of the speech resonated with people across the country because many people "really want something to hold onto for hope."

The son said he’s experienced no blowback from the district for what he did. And a district spokesman suggested Costner won’t.

“He’s a graduate now, so there’s nothing we can do about it even if we wanted to,” John Eby told WYFF. “But the bottom line is we’re not going to punish students for expressing their religious faiths.”

The district, Eby explained to CNN Friday morning, is in a “nearly impossible position.” He said federal law, under the Establishment Clause, is clear that public schools cannot “approve in advance a student’s prayer” or “carve out time specifically for religious expression.” But, under the Free Exercise Clause, he added, “we can’t punish students who do pray.”

Gaylor doesn’t expect there to be any punishment. But without issuing some sort of statement expressing disappointment and reiterating school policy, she said, the district is making a mistake.

“It’s one thing if a school doesn’t have a policy,” she said. “But when they do, they really need to enforce their policy because otherwise it’s just a wink and a nod.”

Eby has an answer to this.

“I do want to reiterate that we don’t approve rule breaking,” he said. “But we are very serious about protecting our students’ rights to express themselves religiously – or refuse to.”

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: Belief • Christianity

soundoff (5,383 Responses)
  1. prada bags

    msqvdzhotyp With his speech, valedictorian brings God to graduation – CNN Belief Blog – CNN.com Blogs msqvdzhotyp msqvdzhotyp msqvdzhotyp prada bags http://www.oneitbag.com

    August 6, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
  2. faith

    And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.

    For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

    And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.

    And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:

    That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

    Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought:

    But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory:

    Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

    But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.

    But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit

    July 9, 2013 at 6:42 am |
  3. Rose

    YAY Roy Costner!!!! You rock! Don't listen to the stuck up moody atheists who are jealous of believers. They're just mad more people don't want to share their depressing theories on the non-existence of anything the scientific method can't prove.

    June 29, 2013 at 6:09 pm |
  4. Books of Creationism and Intelligent Design are banned from public schools

    Because children deserve genuine scientific knowledge not religious nonsense.

    June 29, 2013 at 9:44 am |
  5. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    "Prayer changes things'

    June 22, 2013 at 6:29 am |
    • Science

      Hey dot............chad is chasing tail today................ lmao .

      June 23, 2013 at 9:15 pm |
  6. lol??

    lol??
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    lol??
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    Would Adam and Eve have taken the Word of God so lightly if they could have seen earth circa 2000?????????

    June 19, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
    • Science

      Hey faithy...lol??.....all creationists...........chadie too ...............COMEDY GOLD links at bottom of post !!!

      The pesky meteorites/chondrites = life .........................not the nasty bible. and Adam and his bone.

      No horn-y red beast needed.......no heaven either..........but they (meteorites) where hot when they where coming in.

      Life-Producing Phosphorus Carried to Earth by Meteorites

      June 4, 2013 — Scientists may not know for certain whether life exists in outer space, but new research from a team of scientists led by a University of South Florida astrobiologist now shows that one key element that produced life on Earth was carried here on meteorites.

      http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130604153520.htm

      http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/05/23/heaven-for-atheists-pope-sparks-debate/#comments

      And faithy chew on native iron stones all your life...............it drives the medical tests nuts !

      19. Solar nebula (repeat)
      Most meteorites are very old, as old as the solar system (4.6 billion years). Because meteorites haven't changed much since then, they are the best clues we have to the origin and history of the solar system and of the Earth. (Painting by Don Dixon, NASA JSC photo S76-25001)

      http://ares.jsc.nasa.gov/education/SlideSets/ExpMetMys/Slides35-42.htm

      http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/05/05/when-christians-become-a-hated-minority/

      http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/06/04/atheists-to-start-1-800-hotline/comment-page-27/#comments

      http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/02/09/my-take-a-word-to-christians-be-nice/comment-page-44/#comments

      Application Timestamp: 5191e7aa

      June 19, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
    • Science

      Hey creationists ..........fred and chadie too no horn-y red beast !

      New Research Backs Genetic 'Switches' in Human Evolution

      June 19, 2013 — A Cornell University study offers further proof that the divergence of humans from chimpanzees some 4 million to 6 million years ago was profoundly influenced by mutations to DNA sequences that play roles in turning genes on and off.

      http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130619091319.htm

      June 19, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
    • Scirence

      Hey lol?? bite the bullet and take the test..............old ass hat/dot/fred you know the poster above did not like the DNA.

      DNA tests reveal Prince William's Indian ancestry

      By Peter Wilkinson, CNN

      updated 12:48 PM EDT, Fri June 14, 2013

      http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/14/world/europe/britain-prince-william-india/?iref=obnetwork

      June 22, 2013 at 7:37 am |
    • Science

      Hey lol??.................crickets have DNA too chad !

      June 28, 2013 at 6:41 am |
  7. I, J

    The Bible tells us not to pray in public:

    "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."

    Matthew 6:5-6

    June 19, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
  8. uspatriot1982

    Our society has gone down morally since we the efforts of non-believers started removing God from anywhere they could. Especially our schools. I am pleased to see that we have people of all ages that see the need to include Christ in all we do. If Christ doesn't belong in it we should work to stay away from it.

    June 18, 2013 at 7:33 pm |
    • the real Tom

      Do you think that only Christian kids attend our public schools? Do only Christians pay taxes to support them? You are an idiot if you think that anyone is prevented from praying in a school. But then, I imagine everyone who knows you realizes you're about 3 bricks shy of a load.

      June 21, 2013 at 7:45 am |
    • HotAirAce

      If you are going to blame someone for the laws and decisions that ensure your const!tution is followed, you should blame the Supreme Court. You know, the one loaded with all believers?

      June 21, 2013 at 8:00 am |
  9. GOOD NEWS

    GOD absolutely exists, and powerfully reigns.

    http://www.holy-19-harvest.com
    UNIVERSAL MAGNIFICENT MIRACLES

    June 18, 2013 at 5:08 am |
  10. faith

    I LOVE THAMMBOES

    June 18, 2013 at 12:20 am |
    • Science

      Hey faithy...your moral compass is screwed up.....all creationists...........chadie too ...............COMEDY GOLD links at

      bottom of post !!!

      The pesky meteorites/chondrites = life .........................not the nasty bible. and Adam and his bone.

      No horn-y red beast needed.......no heaven either..........but they (meteorites) where hot when they where coming in.

      Life-Producing Phosphorus Carried to Earth by Meteorites

      June 4, 2013 — Scientists may not know for certain whether life exists in outer space, but new research from a team of scientists led by a University of South Florida astrobiologist now shows that one key element that produced life on Earth was carried here on meteorites.

      http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130604153520.htm

      http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/05/23/heaven-for-atheists-pope-sparks-debate/#comments

      And faithy chew on native iron stones all your life...............it drives the medical tests nuts !

      19. Solar nebula (repeat)
      Most meteorites are very old, as old as the solar system (4.6 billion years). Because meteorites haven't changed much since then, they are the best clues we have to the origin and history of the solar system and of the Earth. (Painting by Don Dixon, NASA JSC photo S76-25001)

      http://ares.jsc.nasa.gov/education/SlideSets/ExpMetMys/Slides35-42.htm

      http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/05/05/when-christians-become-a-hated-minority/

      http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/06/04/atheists-to-start-1-800-hotline/comment-page-27/#comments

      http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/02/09/my-take-a-word-to-christians-be-nice/comment-page-44/#comments

      Application Timestamp: 5191e7aa

      June 19, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
  11. faith

    what's that? 0?

    June 18, 2013 at 12:12 am |
  12. faith

    luv u

    June 17, 2013 at 11:21 pm |
  13. faith

    c, that's y we file lawsuits

    June 17, 2013 at 11:19 pm |
  14. faith

    o, please girls. there's gotta b somethin. how bout horus?

    June 17, 2013 at 11:18 pm |
  15. faith

    say zero

    nothin

    June 17, 2013 at 11:16 pm |
  16. faith

    say zero

    June 17, 2013 at 11:14 pm |
  17. Keferan

    I quit working at shoprite to work online and with a little effort I easily bring in around $45 to $85 per/h. Without a doubt this is the easiest and most financially rew. job I've ever had. I actually started 6 months ago and this has totally changed my life. Here's what I do Going1.C0M

    June 17, 2013 at 7:49 pm |
    • .

      That's why you have to spam this board cause you can't afford to advertise, you're full of crap.

      June 18, 2013 at 9:55 am |
  18. Closet Atheist

    It never ceases to amaze me that otherwise intelligent people insist on believing in this nonsense.

    The power of brainwashing since early childhood...

    June 17, 2013 at 1:48 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.