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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. Pohaku

    So people called the kid "brave" and said it “took a lot of courage” and that “people were proud that he stood up for what he believed in.” That's great for him.

    Would they feel the same about me if I said I don't believe in god? I don't. But instead I believe in an indomitable human spirit, something amazing and special that flows through all life on this earth, and the intrinsic ability of people to do good without the threat of a supernatural/mythological heaven or hell. Would that also be ok with them that I'm standing up for what I believe in?

    June 6, 2013 at 9:35 pm |
    • littlepeaks

      You can tell God that personally, when you have your appointment with Him at the end of your life.

      June 6, 2013 at 9:38 pm |
    • ISLAM FOUNDATION OF AMERICAN CONSTI TUTION

      I do not know about others, but you deserve to have hid kicked, for announcing not to believe in to live with truth in life, and prefer to live by hindu atheism, criminal self center ism, in public. .

      June 6, 2013 at 9:41 pm |
    • LinCA

      @littlepeaks

      You said, "You can tell God that personally, when you have your appointment with Him at the end of your life."
      If you happen to get there before I do, can you say "hi" to Odin for me?

      June 6, 2013 at 9:42 pm |
    • Pohaku

      Christianity isn't about flaunting your religion as a badge or a fight or a rousing speech. It's about quietly and humbly being a good person. There are many ways to be a good person that don't involve religion as well. I'm not worried. Thanks for your concern though. 🙂

      June 6, 2013 at 9:45 pm |
    • Xenu

      I am the most powerful god of all, even greater than your Oz, bow to me and make me a sandwich.

      June 6, 2013 at 9:49 pm |
    • Jesus Christ

      Xenu, my dad's gonna kick you butt

      June 6, 2013 at 9:50 pm |
    • mistamista

      @littlepeaks You're going to be incredibly disappointed when you get there and there is no gate, there is no heaven and there is no god. But I hope that you'll be MOST disappointed by the fact that you decided to be a good person for the reward in the next life instead of the good you may have done in this life.

      June 6, 2013 at 9:50 pm |
    • The Holy Trinity

      We don't let no stinkin humans up here wid us you fools. Go hang out wif Allah.

      June 6, 2013 at 9:56 pm |
    • Satan

      Don't pray in school guys! Actually, don't pray at all!

      Thank you.
      As for you Xenu, you are the biggest doof of all but those other goobs aren't far off.... (lookin at you there JC)

      June 6, 2013 at 10:06 pm |
  2. Fr33th1nk3r

    How much "gnashing of teeth" do you think there would have been in South Carolina tonight, had he chosen to say a prayer to Xenu instead?

    June 6, 2013 at 9:25 pm |
    • littlepeaks

      I think he would have caused "scratching of heads" instead, with people thinking, "who is Xenu".

      June 6, 2013 at 9:36 pm |
    • Xenu

      I am the god of Scientology

      June 6, 2013 at 9:47 pm |
  3. Jen

    IN response to Gaylor's comment, "not everyone is a Christian", well, not everyone is like everyone else anyway. We all have our beliefs, and are allowed to state what we believe. This kid didn't ask people to agree with him; he just recognized what has been important to him. No one would complain if anyone else stood up as stated they wanted to give credit to their stepmother or godparent.

    June 6, 2013 at 9:21 pm |
    • Fr33th1nk3r

      Except that the rules and school policy clearly states no praying or religion in public schools. I understand since you are a Christian, you are willing to give him a pass and not hold him accountable (like an atheist or Wiccan would have been, no doubt), but the rest of us are not.

      June 6, 2013 at 9:27 pm |
    • GTA

      Fine.
      So would you have had a problem if Costner instead announced that he had adopted Islam and would now be known as Atta Alli Muhammad? Or, is 'religious expression' in that county limited to Christians?

      June 6, 2013 at 9:44 pm |
    • Kevin Costner

      Don't use my name in vain like that. K, thanks.

      June 6, 2013 at 9:58 pm |
    • a true hero

      What the kid did was selfish, rude, illegal, self-promoting, sanctimonious... all in a days work for the cult-of-westboro that he obviously made a martyr of himself for, so he have a job for life as a preacher. He'll be a town legend. Shrewd as snakes.

      June 6, 2013 at 10:42 pm |
  4. jack

    Since the valedictorian is a private citizen and not an organ of the state, talk of religion is allowed. In fact, stopping him from talking about religion or from praying would be a violation of his first amendment rights. The principal should be schooled.

    June 6, 2013 at 9:21 pm |
    • Fr33th1nk3r

      Except where school policy says NO PRAYER, as it is an implicit endorsement of one religion.

      June 6, 2013 at 9:36 pm |
  5. Dixie Normous

    I Think god rides him

    June 6, 2013 at 9:14 pm |
  6. Colin

    I maintain that we need to not only bring back school prayer, but make it mandatory.

    We do it in the following manner. Upon entry into high school, each child “adopts” a wounded veteran or other person who has a visible and incurable condition, such as a lost leg, arm or eye. Each day the children pray to God that the person recover their lost appendage. We hold prayer sessions every Monday morning for every week/month and year of their high school experience. Those children who have other beliefs can bow, chant, jiggle an amulet, stare into a crystal or do whatever they wish to “pray” for their chosen ailing person.

    Four years later, at their graduation, prayer can put up or shut up. We parade the injured people through the graduation ceremony so the children can see the results of their 4 solid years of constant prayer.

    Just how many limbs, eyes or ears do you think will have re-grown?

    The doubtless, consistent and universal failure of their prayers will help the students understand:

    (i) that there is no god listening and that praying is a futile exercise when the results can REALLY be tested;

    (ii) the frailties of their religious leaders as they scurry for excuses –“god won’t be tested”, “god moves in mysterious ways,” “perhaps the people have been healed spiritually”, etc; and

    (iii) the weakness of human nature (and a basic lesson in politics) as the religious right moves to shut the experiments down.

    June 6, 2013 at 9:12 pm |
    • Water_On_Mars

      We don't put God to test. (We are His creatures)

      He puts us to test. (He is our creator)

      June 6, 2013 at 9:19 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      So you think prayer is about getting stuff you want.....if that's what you think.

      June 6, 2013 at 9:19 pm |
    • Water_On_Mars

      You are playing God, Colin.

      It doesn't work.

      God wants your heart, not your mind. God can use your mind, but he doesn't need it.

      June 6, 2013 at 9:20 pm |
    • Colin

      Water on Mars – see point (ii) above.

      June 6, 2013 at 9:20 pm |
    • Colin

      Well which is it – prayers are answered or they are ignore?

      June 6, 2013 at 9:21 pm |
    • Water_On_Mars

      Colin, why do you think a person prays?

      June 6, 2013 at 9:22 pm |
    • Andrew

      God doesn't test us, god does nothing for us. Absolutely nothing. Humans test other humans. Humans help other humans. Humans are responsible for why, as a percentage of the population, the 20th century was the best in mankind's history in terms of famine, war, thirst.

      Humans have made the planet better to live on today than fifty years ago. Or a hundred years ago. Or two hundred.

      Your god sits back and does nothing, while humans, together, collectively, make life better on this planet.

      Your god is small compared to the power of humanity.

      June 6, 2013 at 9:23 pm |
    • Water_On_Mars

      I pray for knowledge of God's will for me and the power to carry it out.

      I don't pray to God like he is a magic genie that will grant my wishes (your idea of what a prayer is).

      God's will, not mine be done.

      Sometimes a person's weakness (missing limb, blind eyes) can be a strength. Maybe my wish or idea of what is best, really isn't.

      Have you ever suffered from any kind of disability or setback? Did overcoming them make you a stronger person?

      June 6, 2013 at 9:24 pm |
    • MandoZink

      No one has ever been prayed for and cured of anything that wasn't within the realm of statistical probability. I am an atheist who had cancer and knew I had a very good chance of surviving due to modern medicine. I had no trepidations whatsoever thanks to my great heath coverage. Good heath care beats magical incantations and wishful thinking and every time.

      June 6, 2013 at 9:26 pm |
    • godless is happiness

      Water on Mars,

      I know you are a sham and a liar. You claim to know the mind of a creator. What knowledge do you have that I don't.

      More interestingly, what else do you know? Why stop there. Spread more of the ideas and knowledge you gleaned from this creators mind.

      June 6, 2013 at 9:28 pm |
    • Water_On_Mars

      @ Andrew

      Seriously? You think things are better?

      We have the resources and means to feed every person on this planet.

      Yet it doesn't happen.

      There are places in Africa that I know about where they walk miles for dirty water.

      I see my neighbors water their plants with better water than these people.

      And don't even get me started on slavery:

      http://slaveryfootprint.org/

      Andrew, basically we support slavery in this country.

      Don't tell me we are better off. We are worst. Because we could actually do something.

      But we aren't.

      June 6, 2013 at 9:28 pm |
    • Colin

      Prayers are useless because there is nothing out there reading your mind when you pray. Prayers are only ever “answered” when the facts that play out happened to coincide with the thing prayed for. That's why every Superbowl, God answers one coach's prayers.

      I could go to Vegas and pray that a 4 comes up each of 600 times I roll a die. I’ll bet God answers my prayers about 100 times.

      June 6, 2013 at 9:29 pm |
    • Fr33th1nk3r

      The supposed fact that God has to "test" anything, conflicts strongly with the Christian supposition that he is omniscient (all-knowing).

      We test things when we do not know what the outcome will be. What use does an all-knowing being have for petty behavioral tests that he supposedly had foreknowlege of?

      This is why the Christian concept of "Free Will" is totally bogus as well.

      June 6, 2013 at 9:30 pm |
    • Water_On_Mars

      @godless is happiness

      The only knowledge that I have is getting on my knees and humbly asking God for knowledge of His will for me and the power to carry that out.

      I believe God's ways are not our ways. The American way (convenience, safety, instant gratification) are not necessarily God's ways (patience, risk, suffering).

      June 6, 2013 at 9:32 pm |
    • Fr33th1nk3r

      "Don't tell me we are better off. We are worst. Because we could actually do something.
      But we aren't."

      That is quite the extensive list of convoluted nonsense. People in Africa have ALWAYS been starving, there has always been disease. he difference being that in the 20th century, that kind of thing happens exponentially less than it did two thousand years ago.
      They were caled the "Dark Ages" for a reason....not surprisingly, religion ruled the minds of man back then, in stead of logical thinking and empirical inquiry.

      June 6, 2013 at 9:32 pm |
    • Water_On_Mars

      If you want to seek God, pray.

      If you don't want God, don't pray. Keep posting about how smarter you are and how you have it all figured out.

      June 6, 2013 at 9:35 pm |
    • Colin

      Water. How many little 5 year-old African children did your god drown in Noah's flood and what did they do to deserve it?

      June 6, 2013 at 9:35 pm |
    • godless is happiness

      "There are places in Africa that I know about where they walk miles for dirty water."

      And lo these thousands of years, your god has done nothing to provide them with the most basic necessity.

      Of course, the day an industrialist builds a water purification plant, it will be due to god's glory. Of course, the point is missed on those who died of thirst and dysentery.

      Truly a joke.

      June 6, 2013 at 9:36 pm |
    • Fr33th1nk3r

      "If you want to seek God, pray. If you don't want God, don't pray. Keep posting about how smarter you are and how you have it all figured out."

      So far, it looks like they HAVE figured it out pretty well. You are the one who appears to be groping for a handhold in this debate. maybe you should pray for an answer why an omnipotent God needs to test anything?

      June 6, 2013 at 9:38 pm |
    • Andrew

      D- mn right things are better. If you deny this, you've been living with your head in the sand.

      "We have the resources and means to feed every person on this planet. Yet it doesn't happen."

      And this means things are getting worse? "We didn't used to have the resources and means to feed everyone, but now we do", and this somehow implies things are becoming worse? Fewer people die from famine and drought as a percentage of the world population than in any century before and this somehow is becoming worse?

      Yes, drought and famine still exist, meaning some people still die from preventable causes. But in no way is that worse than what it was 50, or 100, or 200 years ago.

      "There are places in Africa that I know about where they walk miles for dirty water."

      And there were places in Africa where they walked miles for dirty water 50, or 100, or 200 years ago. Guess what, there are a lot fewer places like that today than there were back then. Again, THINGS ARE IMPROVING!

      "I see my neighbors water their plants with better water than these people."

      You have the entire infrastructure the US has built, with scientists and engineers developing clean potable accessible water for nearly all citizens so that they can water their plants with better water. Because 50, 100, 200 years ago, that wasn't possible. Because things are getting better. They have constantly been getting better.

      "And don't even get me started on slavery:"

      Please do, slavery might still exist, but you can't even BEGIN to compare it to the legal slavery of 200 years ago. Hell, racism and discrimination exist, but you can't BEGIN to compare that to the inst-tutionalised legal racism and discrimination of 60 years ago.

      "Andrew, basically we support slavery in this country."

      And yet slavery in the world has been becoming more and more infrequent. Honestly do you believe 200, 300, 400 years ago there were fewer slaves as a percent of the human population? Do you think passing laws to outlaw slavery made slavery worse?

      Are you really so incapable of seeing how the world has improved? I'm not saying the world is perfect, but it has been improving based on human contributions, no matter how hard you want to cry and scream "no the world is still just like it was in the 1500s!"

      "Don't tell me we are better off. We are worst. Because we could actually do something.

      But we aren't."

      We couldn't do anything before. Meaning the very fact that we can now conceive of ways to prevent these problems is by definition improvement. Humans improve the planet, while your god does nothing.

      June 6, 2013 at 9:40 pm |
    • Water_On_Mars

      @ Colin

      “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

      The story says they were evil. They were going to destroy God's creation.

      You wouldn't be here if he didn't save Noah.

      @ Africa

      Man oppresses the people in Africa. Not God.

      The leaders there want to be rich, not help others.

      June 6, 2013 at 9:40 pm |
    • my westboro robotic-wife-unit is the best

      I support mandatory religious indoctrination into the one cult approved by "America's Pastor"... the cult-of-westboro and the one true church of manly men and submissive house-servant-wifery. It is what the Westboro-Talibanana want and all of us should too. Why can't liberals see that life is supposed to be like this. Patriotic Prosperity will save American youth once we make it mandatory.

      June 6, 2013 at 9:42 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      "Noah" is getting serious mention on this thread? LOL

      June 6, 2013 at 9:43 pm |
    • Water_On_Mars

      @Andrew

      It is all opinion. You weren't alive 100 years ago... so you have *faith* in what you have read or what you imagine life used to be like.

      Did you take that slave test?

      June 6, 2013 at 9:44 pm |
    • godless is happiness

      Water Martian,

      So god has given you knowledge of his will? He spoke to or somehow communicated with you? Wow.

      How about asking for something a little more practical that will benefit humanity in a more direct way: ask how to cure cancer and paralysis and end world hunger. Enough with the indirect mysterious messages. Get to the point and fast.

      Or does your god work in mysterious ways all the while children suffer and die of cancer?

      June 6, 2013 at 9:45 pm |
    • Colin

      Water. Seriously? 5 year old African girls were "evil" and a threat to God's creation. I was at least hoping for a "Noah's Ark was just a myth" response.

      June 6, 2013 at 9:45 pm |
    • Fr33th1nk3r

      "“And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”"

      Ah, you want to quote Bible verses now. Well, lets not leave out some of these wonderful little nuggets.....

      Lev.21:17-23
      Whosoever ... hath any blemish, let him not approach to offer the bread of his God. For whatsoever man he be that hath a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that hath a flat nose, or any thing superfluous, Or a man that is brokenfooted, or brokenhanded, Or crookbackt, or a dwarf, or that hath a blemish in his eye, or be scurvy, or scabbed, or hath his stones broken; No man that hath a blemish of the seed of Aaron the priest shall come nigh to offer the offerings of the LORD made by fire: he hath a blemish; he shall not come nigh to offer the bread of his God. ... Only he shall not go in unto the vail, nor come nigh unto the altar, because he hath a blemish; that he profane not my sanctuaries. (IOW, handicapped and people with congenital deformities should not be allowed in the church, lest they offend God's sensitive temper and desire to only look at his creations that turned out perfect).

      Leviticus 15:19-30
      And if a woman have an issue, and her issue in her flesh be blood, she shall be put apart seven days: and whosoever toucheth her shall be unclean until the even. And every thing that she lieth upon in her separation shall be unclean: every thing also that she sitteth upon shall be unclean. And whosoever toucheth her bed shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. And whosoever toucheth any thing that she sat upon shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. And if it be on her bed, or on any thing whereon she sitteth, when he toucheth it, he shall be unclean until the even. And if any man lie with her at all, and her flowers be upon him, he shall be unclean seven days; and all the bed whereon he lieth shall be unclean. And if a woman have an issue of her blood many days out of the time of her separation, or if it run beyond the time of her separation; all the days of the issue of her uncleanness shall be as the days of her separation: she shall be unclean. Every bed whereon she lieth all the days of her issue shall be unto her as the bed of her separation: and whatsoever she sitteth upon shall be unclean, as the uncleanness of her separation. And whosoever toucheth those things shall be unclean, and shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. But if she be cleansed of her issue, then she shall number to herself seven days, and after that she shall be clean. And on the eighth day she shall take unto her two turtles, or two young pigeons, and bring them unto the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And the priest shall offer the one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for her before the LORD for the issue of her uncleanness. (IOW– don't forget to make your wife live outside the city walls when she is on her period each month).

      June 6, 2013 at 9:48 pm |
    • Water_On_Mars

      Colin

      @ Water. Seriously? 5 year old African girls were "evil"

      I called it a story.

      They were so evil, they were on a path to destroy themselves. And everybody else.

      It brought out the wrath of God.

      June 6, 2013 at 9:49 pm |
    • Colin

      Water- So you take issue with Andrew's post that sets out nothing but common knowledge of what the Wrold was like 100 years ago because he "wasn't there" but will blindly accept that a Worldwide flood took place less than 6,000 years ago because it says so in the Bible?

      June 6, 2013 at 9:49 pm |
    • Fr33th1nk3r

      "It is all opinion. You weren't alive 100 years ago... so you have *faith* in what you have read or what you imagine life used to be like."

      LOL. This discussion is over– it is clear you are out of ammunition. Now, you are so desperate to defend your imaginary friends, that we have to be willfully ignorant and deny reality to make your crap stay afloat.

      June 6, 2013 at 9:50 pm |
    • Water_On_Mars

      @ Fr33th1nk3r

      Stop it!

      Seriously, take it from a smart atheist:

      "The whole point of the New Testament/Jesus is that there is a new covenant between humanity and God, making the Old Testament essentially null and void, meaning that anyone can become a Christian (not just those of Jewish descent) and that the laws of the Old Testament (including Leviticus) are no longer applicable. This is why Christianity exists and the main reason for the distinction between it and Judaism."

      http://www.reddit.com/r/atheism/comments/18immd/i_really_wish_atheistsagnosticschristians_would/

      Colin is the one that referenced the Bible verse – it was relevant. What you posted is ignorant.

      June 6, 2013 at 9:51 pm |
    • Andrew

      Faith? We have rather excellent records of life back 100 years ago. Electricity barely existed, and was in the process of a bitter feud between the idi -t Edison, and the insane Tesla. Jim Crow laws had been fairly recently passed, and lynching was actually legal.

      There was limited food production methods, as the Dust Bowl made abundantly clear, and communication was limited mostly to beeps and dots. Aspirin had literally JUST been invented. Water purification was rudimentary, and sanitation laws didn't exist, you could unload waste directly into drinking water supplies, without any treatment. (Great for health don't you think?)

      People didn't live as long. People couldn't eat as much food. People couldn't communicate as quickly. People were literally lynched.

      I can't really think of very many ways that the early 1900s were objectivity better than this century.

      June 6, 2013 at 9:52 pm |
    • Water_On_Mars

      @ Colin

      @ Water- So you take issue with Andrew's post that sets out nothing but common knowledge of what the Wrold was like 100 years ago....

      No.

      I really don't think things are better today.

      We have technical advances, but human beings aren't any better than they were 100 years or even thousand and thousand of years ago.

      God's story – in the Bible- speaks about the nature of human beings. So many things that happened 6,000 years ago are still relevant today.

      It is called ancient wisdom.

      6,000 years ago, or today. We are all just human beings.

      I think it is arrogant to declare we are better than 'they' were.

      June 6, 2013 at 9:55 pm |
    • Andrew

      Also it seems child labor laws didn't come out till the 1930s. Honestly, really I cannot conceive of a really a single objective standard life back then was better.

      Life is constantly improving, no matter how much you want to cling to your religious beliefs of "everything gets worse, god is coming, we're all going to die!"

      Put your faith in humanity and try to help contribute to the improvements, rather than faith in your small and trivial god.

      June 6, 2013 at 9:56 pm |
    • Colin

      Been nice chatting, Water, but I'm leaving.

      June 6, 2013 at 9:59 pm |
    • Andrew

      "We have technical advances, but human beings aren't any better than they were 100 years or even thousand and thousand of years ago."

      Yes, yes we are. We no longer have Jim Crow laws. We no longer have legal slavery. We no longer have legal child labor. We have had fewer and fewer deaths due to war each and every century. We have had fewer and fewer deaths to famine that can be seen on DECADE scales.

      Those "technological advancements" came with longer lives, with drops in violent crime rates ever since we first started taking the d-mn statistics. When people have ample food and water, due to technology, it seems they're more peaceful and accomplish more than when they're struggling to survive.

      Those "technological advancements" are also made by better understanding the universe, it comes from learning about the world we collectively share, which has demonstrable improvements. The bible doesn't give us any of that except archaic bronze age morality.

      The morality in that old book is the kind of archaic thought that will keep us forever fighting over small parts of this pathetic small rock. Coming together as a species, continuing to advance, and recognising the ability of technology to improve our lives, can take us to the stars.

      You can either wait around talking to your invisible god and watch the species go extinct eventually, or you can help us secure our future. Your god won't help, humans will.

      June 6, 2013 at 10:02 pm |
    • Water_On_Mars

      More cancer.

      More air pollution.

      More water pollution.

      Can't drink untreated water.

      Suburban sprawl.

      Overpopulation.

      Obesity.

      1% control a majority of the wealth.

      Suicide bombings.

      June 6, 2013 at 10:03 pm |
    • Water_On_Mars

      Suicide rates are way higher today than the past.

      http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/03/health/suicide-rate-rises-sharply-in-us.html?_r=0

      June 6, 2013 at 10:05 pm |
    • Water_On_Mars

      A lot of the advancements you named that we enjoy came at the hands of people who believe in God.

      They give credit to God.

      June 6, 2013 at 10:08 pm |
    • Fr33th1nk3r

      ""The whole point of the New Testament/Jesus is that there is a new covenant between humanity and God, making the Old Testament essentially null and void, meaning that anyone can become a Christian "

      LOL. More of your Christian logic? The fact that the Old Testament had to be "revised" by God suggests a very fallible and imperfect being. Why didn't he get it right the first time?

      June 6, 2013 at 10:09 pm |
    • Water_On_Mars

      "there are more slaves today than at any time in human history"

      How is that better?

      http://www.alternet.org/story/142171/there_are_more_slaves_today_than_at_any_time_in_human_history

      http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/03/06/global-slavery-by-the-numbers/

      June 6, 2013 at 10:11 pm |
    • Fr33th1nk3r

      "A lot of the advancements you named that we enjoy came at the hands of people who believe in God.
      They give credit to God."

      But NONE of those things were invented BECAUSE they believed in God. You are on a roll here....one illogical and non-sequitur statement after another.

      June 6, 2013 at 10:11 pm |
    • Free thinking. Atheism. Irony

      As a free thinker you have to admit that you live in a world of infinite possibilities. Even as a radical sceptic, there is no doubt about that. Only a fool and narrow-minded person will refuse to believe it. à The irony is that the atheists nowadays, those who call themselves free thinkers and point out the fingers to religion as not being in this way, tend to be narrow-minded too – so certain about scientific knowledge. Consequently, it became more than a religion, and perhaps the most practiced/lived religion in the world. So they are more dogmatic and more religious in their beliefs of certainty and radical truths, more fundamentalist than more Christians, for instance.

      June 6, 2013 at 10:13 pm |
    • Water_On_Mars

      @ "But NONE of those things were invented BECAUSE they believed in God. "

      I said advancements. Not inventions.

      Martin Luther King, JR and Rosa Parks would beg to disagree with you.

      June 6, 2013 at 10:15 pm |
    • Fr33th1nk3r

      "More cancer.
      More air pollution.
      More water pollution.
      Can't drink untreated water.
      Suburban sprawl.
      Overpopulation.
      Obesity.
      1% control a majority of the wealth.
      Suicide bombings."

      LOL. grabbing for more straws.....

      * Cancer – someone already stated we do still have diseases today, but they kill far less than they did even a decade ago. Long ago, man had to fear nearly every virus that could end up in our bodies– people died of the common cold and the flu by the thousands. SCIENCE paved the way for that to change.
      * Air pollution – small price to pay to live in an industrialized society that allows human beings to live 75 years instead of the 30 years people averaged back in Biblical times. I see how you mentioned pollution three times– running out of bullets, MARS?
      * Suburban sprawl – has always existed, only now, it is exponentially less than in years past, and we no longer have raw sewage running down the middle of the street (thank those scientists types for learning about viruses and bacteria and sanitation).
      * Overpopulation – yes, we have become so successful at living on this earth with no help from God, we are starting to overpopulaate it. Good reason to expand the space program– we need to get off this rock soon.
      * Obesity – yes, a disease of OPULENCE (once again, our success at living on this earth with no supernatural help).
      * Suicide bombers – a by product of religious belief.

      June 6, 2013 at 10:19 pm |
    • Water_On_Mars

      "Global cancer rates are expected to increase 50 percent by the year 2020, according to the latest report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a branch of the World Health Organization (WHO). "

      50% increase!

      Probably due to industrial practices.

      http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/249136.php

      As China gets better like us – cancer rates increase.

      Not all that sparkles is gold.

      June 6, 2013 at 10:25 pm |
    • Andrew

      Wait wait wait, you just quoted an article saying that there are 27 million slaves worldwide today compared to 25 million in 1860, and then seemed to make it seem like this is worse?

      The population in 1860 is estimated to be roughly a billion. The population today is over 6 times that. So we have about the same number of slaves, but 6 times the total population? Yeahhh slavery is really sky-rocketing by becoming a smaller and smaller share of the public.

      June 6, 2013 at 10:34 pm |
    • Water_On_Mars

      Go tell the slaves that – I'm sure it'll make them feel better.

      June 6, 2013 at 10:43 pm |
    • WhatintheWorld

      This Water Clown is a fraud. A charlatan. A typical know-nothing Chris.ist.ard.

      You don't believe we knew much 100 years ago yet you are willing to swallow fully the lies of bronze-age goat herders?

      Consistency is not yout strong suit. Lying is.

      June 6, 2013 at 10:45 pm |
    • beelzebubba

      RE: Andrew "Humans have made the planet better to live on today than fifty years ago. Or a hundred years ago. Or two hundred."
      Great reminder of what needs to be done and who has to do it... thanks...

      June 6, 2013 at 10:46 pm |
    • Andrew

      I'm quite confident "the world is better today than it was 200 years ago" will be little comfort to slaves existing today.

      The fact that a much smaller percentage of the population is held in slavery means we are reducing slavery, because while our population has grown by quite a lot, our slave population has not.

      It's little comfort if you're a slave, until we manage to get you out of your condition. But you have a much better chance of leaving slavery today than you did 200 years ago.

      The fact that problems still exist today doesn't mean the world is getting worse, it just means the world has a lot of things we need to address. It always has. But it is objectively improving, as much as you try to deny it.

      June 6, 2013 at 10:57 pm |
  7. Fr33th1nk3r

    I am wondering if the reaction would have been as positive, had he read the Humanist's Creed, or a Buddhist prayer instead. Christian hypocrisy at its finest....

    June 6, 2013 at 9:12 pm |
    • Pohaku

      I absolutely agree with you. "You're brave to stand up for what you believe in ... as long as it's Christian and we agree with it."

      June 6, 2013 at 9:38 pm |
    • Saraswati

      Not only selfish but stupid. If the prayer was for himelf and like-minded friends he was just self-centered. If he thought it would convert anyone rather than just pis.sing them off and making them feel excluded from what should be one of the best days of their lives, he was an unbelievable fool. My bet is he was both. Then again, this is the state that produced the infamous Pageant Girl, so it probably doesn't take much to be valedictorian...

      http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=lj3iNxZ8Dww&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3Dlj3iNxZ8Dww

      June 6, 2013 at 10:56 pm |
  8. godless is happiness

    "Another student said it “took a lot of courage” and that “people were proud that he stood up for what he believed in.”

    I wonder this studemt would have felt the same way about the speaker if he had instead said he was an atheist and gone on about humanism and that there was no god.

    Somehow, I think the reaction would have been pure venom.

    June 6, 2013 at 9:00 pm |
    • Eric

      Um... seriously you don't really need to "wonder" about that, do you?

      June 6, 2013 at 9:02 pm |
    • tattle tale

      My kid with autism understands more about empathy than these people.

      June 6, 2013 at 9:03 pm |
    • Colette

      Agreed. That is what I would have done, and I don't doubt that there would have been anger.

      June 6, 2013 at 9:06 pm |
    • Pohaku

      I just posted almost exactly the same question. 🙂 I agree.

      June 6, 2013 at 9:39 pm |
  9. Jean-Sartre

    Well, isn't it nice to see how southern folks get educated?

    Tell me he had to go to HS to learn about the Invisible Wizard in the sky?

    June 6, 2013 at 9:00 pm |
  10. Felix Sinclair

    I should have thanked Zeus at my graduation.

    June 6, 2013 at 8:56 pm |
    • Arthur Bryant

      Uh-uh. That would have pis.sed Odin off.

      Wish I had the time to figure out how to bypas.s the silly word filter....

      June 8, 2013 at 7:47 pm |
  11. Secular Humanist from Ohio

    Kierra Wilmont faced two felony charges for setting off a draino bomb in the back of school but Roy Costner faces no charges for violating the law of separation of Church and State. Religion almost always gets a pass.

    June 6, 2013 at 8:56 pm |
    • Water_On_Mars

      Explain how he violated the law.

      June 6, 2013 at 9:00 pm |
    • The More You Know

      Separation of Church and State only means that no one religion would be established above all others.

      Therefore, expressing one’s faith in a public building or venue is certainly acceptable – regardless of that faith.

      You are free to express yourself, too.

      Don't ever let the government take that right from us.

      June 6, 2013 at 9:02 pm |
    • Secular Humanist from Ohio

      Wilmot- I cannot type tonight.

      June 6, 2013 at 9:04 pm |
    • The More You Know

      Kiera Wilmot DID do something dangerous, and illegal.

      She is fortunate she did not harm herself or other people.

      June 6, 2013 at 9:09 pm |
    • Secular Humanist from Ohio

      My point is that religion almost always gets a free pass.

      June 6, 2013 at 9:34 pm |
    • Ave et Vale

      Mars,

      Your own rule book says, "Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar's..." This is a "Caesar" funded/run school. If he'd have been speaking at a church school, different story.

      June 6, 2013 at 9:56 pm |
  12. OOO

    Gee,
    I wonder how many of them thought about how uncomfortable some of the non-christian kids felt through that. Oh yea, that's right. They never give a d.amn.

    June 6, 2013 at 8:55 pm |
    • Colette

      good point

      June 6, 2013 at 9:11 pm |
    • GTA

      "They never gave a damn."
      How could you possibly know that?

      Further, would the audience have been 'uncomfortable' if the Valedictorian read some passages from the Quran? I suspect they would.

      June 6, 2013 at 9:49 pm |
    • tattle tale

      Of course GTA. That's the point. Don't you get it? Religion has no place there.

      June 6, 2013 at 10:25 pm |
  13. Eric

    Wow, saying a Christian prayer – and in the South no less! Now *that* shows some real courage.

    Seriously, student graduation speeches are so uniformly horrible that if I'd been there, I probably would have been too busy ignoring it to even notice he was praying.

    June 6, 2013 at 8:53 pm |
  14. Vladislav

    As a catholic this makes me very proud as it is a small demonstration of a return to somewhat old fashioned AMERICAN values.

    June 6, 2013 at 8:49 pm |
    • Athy

      Yeah, I'll just bet it does.

      June 6, 2013 at 8:56 pm |
    • godless is happiness

      slavery and denying women the right to vote were also old-fashioned American values.

      Fortunately, they are relegated to the trashcan of history where religion will soon enough be.

      June 6, 2013 at 8:57 pm |
    • Jen L

      The American value of using public money to try discriminate against people who don't have the same religion as you? Last I checked, Freedom of Religion is an American value– even for Jews and pagans and atheists.

      June 6, 2013 at 8:59 pm |
    • Manuel J.

      Amen brother. There are many haters out there who often admonish Catholicism. Yet, those same haters don't hesitate accepting help from one of this country's largest relief agencies; Catholic relief services. By the way, Catholic services DO HELP SINGLE MOTHERS WHO SAVE THERE BABIES.

      June 6, 2013 at 9:21 pm |
    • GTA

      Do you mean the old-fashioned Catholic value of systemic child abuse enabled by the entire hierarchy of the church, including the Vatican? Those American values? Good times....

      June 6, 2013 at 9:52 pm |
    • Arthur Bryant

      Oh, I'm so glad for you. By the way....America is NOT a "Christian" country. Not only that but many of your fellow xtians think you're an idolater and will be departing straight to hell when you die. In fact, they say that Catholics aren't Christians at all.

      June 8, 2013 at 7:50 pm |
  15. DJR

    And if you missed in the heat and the floods and the tornadoes and the war GOD has blessed him! Fly kid, fly!

    June 6, 2013 at 8:40 pm |
  16. No intervention

    If the Freedom From Intervention didn't meddle in the school then he would have learned nothing. Except perhaps how people lived in giant fish and about talking snakes or about mystical creatures that glow and walk on water.

    I bet he was told or paid to say that by some crazies.

    June 6, 2013 at 8:39 pm |
    • Fr33th1nk3r

      No, the craziness in these southern states comes right from the heart.

      June 6, 2013 at 9:15 pm |
  17. LouAZ

    Bumper Sticker: If You Won't Pray In My School I Won't Think In Your Church

    June 6, 2013 at 8:33 pm |
    • Water_On_Mars

      I bet you $3,000 I can find a Christian that is smarter than you.

      Care to play?

      June 6, 2013 at 8:39 pm |
    • Marcos

      Few do, anyway.

      June 6, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
    • No intervention

      That is a great bumper sticker! I'll buy one for each bumber!

      June 6, 2013 at 8:42 pm |
    • Miss Demeanor

      Kids can freely pray in schools AND do it the way Jesus taught (without making a public spectacle of it)... Cults that want public 'shows' (an anti-Christian stance) of prayer also scream the loudest that "Christianity has been removed from schools (though they never should have tried to force its presence in the first place). It's so two-faced. Typical Blabtists.

      June 6, 2013 at 8:44 pm |
    • But you loose

      I think it's a great bumper sticker, I'll take one for each bumper.

      June 6, 2013 at 8:45 pm |
    • Zebra

      I'll bet I can find atheists smarter than YOU, Emporer Underscore...so? BFD.

      June 6, 2013 at 8:48 pm |
    • godless is happiness

      Great, Water Martian. There are no doubt some people are very intelligent Chri.st.ards, but when it comes to this silly belief in the sky fairy, they are simpletons.

      June 6, 2013 at 8:51 pm |
    • Water_On_Mars

      @ godless is happiness

      Welcome to the board.

      There is actually great amount of doubt expressed about the intelligence of all Christians on this board. Take a few minutes to read through some of the posts.

      These simpletons have lead some of the greatest civil right protests in this nation's history.

      June 6, 2013 at 8:54 pm |
    • food

      Fantastic bumper sticker!

      June 6, 2013 at 9:36 pm |
  18. Godoflunaticscreation

    Finally someone is speaking up for god. I got scared when I noticed his name fading off a worn dollar bill I pulled out of my wallet.

    June 6, 2013 at 8:25 pm |
    • Water_On_Mars

      "In God We Trust"

      Atheists, if that offends you – send all your dollar bills to me!

      June 6, 2013 at 8:35 pm |
    • Athy

      Doesn't offend. Just makes us wonder. Wonder how otherwise logical people can believe such preposterous nonsense.

      June 6, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
    • Water_On_Mars

      Who is this "us"?

      June 6, 2013 at 8:44 pm |
    • Athy

      See if you can figure it out for yourself, Water. I'll bet you can't, but surprise me.

      June 6, 2013 at 9:02 pm |
    • Water_On_Mars

      The "WE" in "In God We Trust" speaks about Americans.

      The "us" you talk about... is it angry and resentment filled atheists?

      I know and love plenty of atheists – none are like you.

      So who is US?

      Are you in some kind of atheist church?

      June 6, 2013 at 9:06 pm |
  19. cynic2all

    Is a valedictorian supposed to be a puppet for the school and its administrators? Or is his speech his own, even if there may be -somebody- there who doesn't agree with everything he says? Free speech of preprogrammed?

    June 6, 2013 at 8:21 pm |
    • Filthy Hind I love to Mithrism lick and talk Islam bunk

      He was doing a prayer. That's no speech. It's abuse.

      June 6, 2013 at 8:29 pm |
    • Secular Humanist from Ohio

      Filthy Hind I love to Mithrism lick and talk Islam bunk

      Love the handle.

      June 6, 2013 at 8:32 pm |
    • Water_On_Mars

      Politically in-correct.

      June 6, 2013 at 8:37 pm |
    • cynic2all

      So a valedictorian IS a puppet for the school and administrators?

      June 6, 2013 at 8:37 pm |
    • cynic2all

      On this day in 1944, Pres. F.Roosevelt gave his DDay prayer on national radio. Was that "abuse?"

      June 6, 2013 at 8:43 pm |
  20. Danny

    How Brave! He said a prayer in front of a bunch of people, in South Carolina.

    June 6, 2013 at 8:11 pm |
    • Athy

      You don't have to be brave to do that.

      June 6, 2013 at 8:27 pm |
    • MikeyZ

      You were probably overlooking Danny's sarcasm.

      June 6, 2013 at 8:40 pm |
    • Athy

      Nah, I got it. Just wanted to make it more clear for the slower, religious folks.

      June 6, 2013 at 8:44 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.