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June 6th, 2013
10:37 AM ET

With his speech, valedictorian brings God to graduation

By Jessica Ravitz, CNN
[twitter-follow screen_name='JRavitzCNN']

(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. She should stay silent when and after you beat her.

    June 7, 2013 at 6:47 pm |
  2. Science

    And the NASTY word wins all the time................. EVOLUTION..............to funny !

    June 7, 2013 at 6:40 pm |
    • I'm sorry David, I can't let you do that.

      An 'o' too short.

      June 7, 2013 at 6:45 pm |
    • Science

      Oh well typing is not my favorite thing to do................finding chondrites is fun ........also a good defense to use when

      creationists show up at the door !

      June 7, 2013 at 6:56 pm |
  3. Bob

    "Pagan Bob" feels he needs to respond. Go for it pagan. lol There are 2 Bobs guys, one Christian and one who is an antichrist.

    June 7, 2013 at 6:35 pm |
    • ISLAM FOUNDATION OF AMERICAN CONSTI TUTION

      Bob, are F blind?

      June 7, 2013 at 6:35 pm |
    • ComeON

      Bob – can you cite examples and sources of how Christianity is ripped off from Paganism?

      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2012/06/better-atheist-fact-checking.html

      June 7, 2013 at 6:45 pm |
    • ComeON

      No, I can't do that for you.

      I am seriously interested in learning about Christianity stealing from Paganism.

      When I ask, the atheists posters here reference some atheist propaganda site – and I can't find any reliable sources to back up the claims that these sites make.

      And then the atheist posters just go away and stop answering me.

      June 7, 2013 at 6:51 pm |
    • Secular Humanist from Ohio

      ComeOn, or whoever you are, I doubt you are serious about anything.

      June 7, 2013 at 6:55 pm |
    • ComeON

      Uh, like you are one to talk.

      June 7, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
    • Secular Humanist from Ohio

      Da.mn, I hate it when someone fu.cks with my head!

      June 7, 2013 at 7:06 pm |
    • poopmeister

      Simple, during the time of Constantine, Paganism still had a firm foot hold in society. So instead of trying to phase out everything, they decided to utilize already existing Pagan holidays and transform them into new "Christian" holidays so that Pagans could still party in the way they knew how. Christmas falls on the start of the Winter solstice which was a strong Pagan holiday, they even admit that they don't know the birthdate of baby Jesus...they just picked that day due to the Pagan holiday. Check out Easter because if you ever thought it was stupid that we "hide easter eggs" and a "bunny" represents Easter, you will be very suprised that, yet again, Pagans came first and so did their rituals. I find it funny that we tend to lose our way, to find our way, just to realize that our way was not the way and we have to find our way back to the beginning!

      June 7, 2013 at 7:17 pm |
    • ComeON

      That is not ripping off.

      It is pretty common that all cultures had seasonal holidays – and the new Christians continued to carry on those traditions.

      What I mean is the theology –

      What other religion has God coming down to man (most religions try to make there way to God)? God comes down to us!

      Here is basic belief in Jesus Christ:

      I believe in God, the Father almighty,

      creator of heaven and earth.

      I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord,

      who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
      born of the virgin Mary,
      suffered under Pontius Pilate,
      was crucified, died and was buried;
      he descended to the dead.*
      On the third day he rose again;
      he ascended into heaven,
      he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
      and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

      I believe in the Holy Spirit,

      the holy catholic Church,
      the communion of saints,
      the forgiveness of sins,
      the resurrection of the body,
      and the life everlasting. Amen.

      -Where is the rip off?

      June 7, 2013 at 7:21 pm |
    • poopmeister

      Oh man Come on, you will love this one. They did not have a date for Jesus's birth, so they picked the birthdate of Horus, Egyptian God. Greek myths have very comparative qualities with Christianity, they both have a dying and returning god mythology, Dionysus and Jesus. The flood story was a rip off of several flood stories preceeding it. What hasn't Christianity ripped off? I don't doubt that Jesus existed but maybe Christians should be less concerned with the validity of their God and more focused on the here and now of the status of society...and I don't think formal religion is the answer, can't we all just get along?

      June 7, 2013 at 7:41 pm |
    • poopmeister

      Sorry, I didn't answer your question. Hinduism believed that their God descended to Earth, along with Egyptian mythology, Greek mythology, etc, etc, etc....

      June 7, 2013 at 7:50 pm |
    • ComeON

      Not all Christians celebrate Christmas on December 25th.

      And where did you get the Horus birth date of December 25th? They were on our same calendar?

      Google this: There is no mention of Horus being born on December 25th anywhere in Egyptian mythology.

      June 7, 2013 at 7:59 pm |
    • poopmeister

      Horus was born during the Winter Solstice, hence the Dec 25th date. No they didn't follow the same calendar duh....they just happen to have the same seasonal occurrences. The date of Jesus did not arrive until the 3rd century, so does that mean that they had a time machine and went back to find out the date? There is no ancient texts that proclaim to know the birth date of Jesus....they picked that date, what part of this didn't you get?

      June 7, 2013 at 8:15 pm |
    • ComeON

      December 25th is not the winter solstice.

      And the December 25th birth date isn't biblical. I've never been in a church or met a Christian that claims Jesus Christ was born on December 25th. They understand it is simply observed on that date.

      And there is not mention of December 25th in Egyptian mythology.

      They just happen to share a celebration around the same time of the year.

      That is not a rip off.

      A lot of cultures celebrate at that time of year.

      June 7, 2013 at 8:48 pm |
    • ComeON

      I'm finding a lot of sources claiming this: Horus's birth is celebrated in the month of Khoiak (October/November)

      June 7, 2013 at 8:55 pm |
    • ComeON

      http://www.digitalegypt.ucl.ac.uk/ideology/khoiak.html

      June 7, 2013 at 8:57 pm |
    • poopmeister

      Roman solstice festivals ended on December 25th, the actual solstice happens generally on the 21st. December 25th is their recognized holiday. Actually the festivities usually happened the night of Dec 24th. I found the same info on Horus's celebration of his birth falling in Oct/Nov but...quote..."at the winter solstice, the sun would seem to be a little child like that which the Egyptians bring forth from a shrine on the appointed day, since the day is then at its shortest and the god is accordingly shown as a tine infant (Macrobius, Saturnalia, 1.18:10).

      Here is the link if you are interested: http://isiopolis.com/2011/12/25/isis-osiris-horus-and-the-holy-day-of-december-25th/

      This was an author looking to dispell the Dec 25th myth but found validation in it. Not like I care and don't understand what the big deal is if Christianity stole evey idea off of another religion. I just find it funny how definitive Christians need to be. If all was held true, then I guess you would need to believe that the Earth is 3000 years old...silly nonsense. It's time to meld religion and science and figure this crap out.

      June 7, 2013 at 9:50 pm |
    • ComeON

      We went from Bob saying Christianity is a complete rip off of Paganism...

      ...to one of the holidays is celebrated at the same time as another Pagan holiday.

      I got no problem with that.

      June 7, 2013 at 10:22 pm |
    • Ave atque Vale

      @ComeOn,
      "What other religion has God coming down to man (most religions try to make there way to God)? God comes down to us!"

      Here are just a few of the several demigods (like yours) that folks have dreamed up over the eons (they walked among us!?):

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demigod

      "demigods are human-god hybrids. Examples of well-known demigods include the Greek hero Heracles (Roman Hercules), the Celtic hero Cuchulain, and the Sumerian king Gilgamesh."

      Odd, just like your guy, they didn't actually write anything down either...

      June 7, 2013 at 10:43 pm |
    • poopmeister

      Sorry wrong again Come one, Christmas, Easter and Halloween (or as it was called, Feast of all Saints).

      June 7, 2013 at 10:45 pm |
    • ComeON

      "Christmas, Easter and Halloween "

      All 3 holiday are also observed and practiced by atheists.

      June 8, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
  4. ISLAM FOUNDATION OF AMERICAN CONSTI TUTION

    10th time.

    To all Christians, Claiming to be Followers of son of blessed Mary.

    What was message of son of blesses Mary, Easu, the anointed one ?

    Religion or The Way of the truth.

    Show your faith by truth.

    DO YOU WANT TO ANSWER TO MY POST OR NOT MORONS!!!!!

    June 7, 2013 at 6:33 pm |

    • I'll take Things That Are True for $500.

      June 7, 2013 at 6:35 pm |
    • ISLAM FOUNDATION OF AMERICAN CONSTI TUTION

      Do not mess it up hindu moron, ignorant secular, self centered ID thief.

      June 7, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
  5. Veronica

    No Christian who thinks that what this kid did is a good thing has answered the question I posed earlier: What if the valedictorian was Muslim? How would you feel about him praying to Allah at your kids' graduation?

    June 7, 2013 at 6:26 pm |

    • That sounds splendid, Veronica. Allah, all praise be unto him, created the double-penetration dildo. Let it be known to everyone.

      June 7, 2013 at 6:30 pm |
    • ComeON

      No big deal. If he took 30 seconds at the end of his speech to thank his parents for leading him to his faith and recited a prayer that was meaningful to him – I wouldn't be too bothered.

      I had to listen to a guy recite a full chapter from the book "Tuesdays with Morrie" that took about 5 minutes. That sucked.

      I was at a function recently where somebody asked to recite a Native American Prayer that was meaningful to him. It was beautiful.

      June 7, 2013 at 6:30 pm |
    • Ave atque Vale

      @ComeOn,
      "I had to listen to a guy recite a full chapter from the book "Tuesdays with Morrie"."

      Ah, "the Morrie you know", eh...!!

      June 7, 2013 at 11:03 pm |
  6. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    All the pieces fall into place
    When we walk these fields
    And I reach out to touch your face
    This earthly heaven is enough for me
    (Gilmour/Samson) – 4:24

    June 7, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
  7. Bob

    The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. ...Romans 6:23

    June 7, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Bob, you need to know that there is nothing eternal about you or anyone of us.

      June 7, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
    • OT/NT

      Great compilation. Thanks.

      June 7, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
    • Veronica

      For Chrissakes, Bob, give it a rest. No one is impressed by your spouting nonsense from a kid's fairy tale book.

      June 7, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
    • Bob

      OT/NT, PTL you are an encourager. That is a wonderful gift. GBU

      June 7, 2013 at 6:30 pm |
    • Bob

      Veronica, Indeed, for Christ's sake I will continue to do as He leads me in the future. For the sake of Christ.

      June 7, 2013 at 6:32 pm |
  8. Andrew

    I he felt so strongly led by God. Why did he sin and lie to the School District about what would be in his speech

    June 7, 2013 at 6:22 pm |
  9. Bob

    All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. ...Romans 3:23

    June 7, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
    • OT/NT

      Great verse on hope. Thanks

      June 7, 2013 at 6:32 pm |
    • OT/NT

      Also adding Romans 6:23 to complete the message on hope.

      June 7, 2013 at 6:38 pm |
  10. Bob

    Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. ...Proverbs 3:5

    June 7, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
    • OT/NT

      Great verse on the source of wisdom. Thanks

      June 7, 2013 at 6:31 pm |
  11. Bob

    For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not of works, unless anyone should boast. ...Ephesians 2:8-9

    June 7, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
    • OT/NT

      Great refresher on the message of grace. Thanks

      June 7, 2013 at 6:30 pm |
  12. Bob

    If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. ...Romans 10:9

    June 7, 2013 at 6:17 pm |
    • OT/NT

      Great reminders. Thanks

      June 7, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
  13. Bob

    This is life eternal that they may know You, the Only True God, and Jesus Christ Whom You have sent. ...John 17:3

    June 7, 2013 at 6:16 pm |
    • OT/NT

      Great messages of hope and redemption for all of mankind that have sinned.

      June 7, 2013 at 6:33 pm |
  14. Bob

    The heavens declare his righteousness, and all the people see His glory. ...Psalm 97:6

    June 7, 2013 at 6:15 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      I guess I missed it, Bob.

      June 7, 2013 at 6:17 pm |
    • Veronica

      Bob, I think you need a good strong drink.

      June 7, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
    • Bob

      Tom, I guess you miss it every day.

      June 7, 2013 at 6:19 pm |
  15. Bob

    You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of Your hands. ...Hebrews 1:10/Psalm 102:2

    June 7, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
  16. Bob

    For as the heavens are higher than the earth; so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than you thoughts. Isaiah 55:9

    June 7, 2013 at 6:13 pm |
    • OT/NT

      Great verses. Thanks.

      June 7, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
    • Bob

      OT/NT, amen God Bless.

      June 7, 2013 at 6:29 pm |
  17. derp

    "I consider him to be diabetic. I'm qualified to consider him that"

    You don't consider him diabetic. Hie is diabetic. You know that because a qualified doctor diagnosed him and is treating him. If you did not know him personally, you would not know or "consider" him diabetic.

    Am I diabetic?

    Methinks you are not bright enough to get this concept.

    June 7, 2013 at 6:13 pm |
    • ComeON

      con·sid·er /kənˈsidər/ Verb

      1. Think carefully about (something), typically before making a decision: "each application is considered".

      2. Think about and be drawn toward (a course of action).
      -–

      I'm not diagnosing or attempting treatment.

      I'm just thinking and drawing a conclusion.

      I could consider my friend not to be a diabetic – and consider he is just doing it for attention, for example.

      I have no idea if you are a diabetic.

      @ If you did not know him personally, you would not know or "consider" him diabetic.

      Well, duh. No kidding. Why would I consider that?

      June 7, 2013 at 6:24 pm |
    • Secular Humanist from Ohio

      Uh-oh. We're getting out the dictionary.

      June 7, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
  18. Bob

    My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are you ways My ways, say the Lord. ...Isaiah 5:8

    June 7, 2013 at 6:12 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      Genesis 6:3 "And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also [is] flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years."

      The LORD died so very long ago.

      Fear not! There will always be an afterlife to forever be had! There is plenty of room to be had ever so deeply within the atomically developed cosmologies of celestially cellular life manifestations! For lo and behold, the kingdom domains of the gods truly are within the inside dimensions of atomized spatial chasms. We are all te gods' buildings wherein they all take up residencies while we are alive and then they scurry along in generational lines of the body the gods are making ready to evacuate. Go Figure!

      June 7, 2013 at 7:43 pm |
  19. Bob

    The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in Truth. ....Psalm 145:18

    June 7, 2013 at 6:11 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      Was it not listening in the tornadoes?

      June 7, 2013 at 6:12 pm |
    • faith

      y do u ask?

      In Santa we trust
      Was it not listening in the tornadoes?

      June 7, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      faith, Because it didn't appear to be. Rhetoric maybe.

      June 7, 2013 at 6:39 pm |
    • faith

      In Santa we trust
      faith, Because it didn't appear to be. Rhetoric maybe.

      it didn't? how come?

      June 7, 2013 at 8:09 pm |
  20. poopmeister

    Good point Bill, why are we in this blog arguing about it. It's the same reason that every Christian should adopt, healthy disagreeance. I think blind faith only weakens belief in ones religion. I love the Dali Lama quote "If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change"....why can't all religions see things this way and question their teachings. I would be questioning things all of the time and if my religion was a strong positive pressence in this world, then I would feel complete. Nothing felt more right for me until I found my way to Buddhism but before that, I was force fed Christian beliefs....why? I think we have to stop force feeding our kids religion and let them arrive there on their own. That is when someone will truly love their God, when they arrive there on their own terms.

    June 7, 2013 at 6:10 pm |
    • Bostontola

      Interesting that Buddhism is non-theistic.

      June 7, 2013 at 6:13 pm |
    • Chuckles

      Ugh, Buddhism is worse than Christianity. At least in christianity good actions are rewarded. In Buddhism, good actions mean karma which ties you to Samsara even more tightly, sure in a reincarnated life you might be "rewarded" with a better life than your previous one, but the end goal is to cease to exist at all.

      June 7, 2013 at 7:07 pm |
    • poopmeister

      How is that worse? Every little thing we do makes a difference in the grand scheme, hence karma....it's not meant to be easy or fufilling all of the time. Look at Jesus, he supposedly lived a pure life and he suffered a horrible death. Do people really think that if they volunteer at soup kitchens every Sunday after church, that they will earn their way into heaven? I love the concept of karma because there are no guarantees. It forces a believer to do good, just for the sake of doing good, no hidden agenda. If we all lived our lives in anticipation for an afterlife...then that is a life wasted.

      June 7, 2013 at 8:32 pm |
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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.