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Valedictorian rips up approved speech, recites prayer

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Roy B Costner IV, valedictorian of Liberty High School in Pickens County, South Carolina, who ripped up his original speech and delivered another thanks his parents for bringing him to Christ and reciting the Lord's prayer, stands outside Clemson's Littlejohn colesium following his graduation ceremony (Credit: Angie Costner via Facebook)

Roy Costner IV is valedictorian of his class at Liberty High School in South Carolina. After complaints from the ACLU and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, his school board decided to end invocations at all school functions and replace prayer at high school graduations with a moment of silence. They also required Costner to submit his speech beforehand for approval.

When he stood to speak, however, he showed the crowd his approved remarks and then tore them in half. He spoke from a separate script for a few minutes, then thanked his parents for his Christian upbringing. Then he added: “I think most of you will understand when I say . . .” and began reciting the Lord’s Prayer. As people in the crowd realized what he was doing, applause began in the coliseum. Within seconds, it was accompanied by loud cheers. When he concluded, the crowd responded with more cheers and applause. The district will take no action against Costner: “We’re not going to punish students for expressing their religious faiths. He’s a graduate now. There’s nothing we can do about it, even if we wanted to.”

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<iframe style=”float: right; border: 1px solid #000000; background-color: #C0C0C0; padding: 2px; margin: 10px; -moz-border-radius: 3px; -khtml-border-radius: 3px; -webkit-border-radius: 3px; border-radius: 3px;” width=”300″ height=”170″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/1nIr4zBz18E?rel=0″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>{/source}Now consider another graduation controversy, this one sparked by The Perks of Being a Wallflower. The novel includes suicide, abortion, drug use, foul language, and all manner of sexual content. The book was being used in Glen Ellyn, Illinois as part of its eighth grade curriculum. After protests from parents, the school board voted 4-2 to remove the book and plans to discuss the matter further when it meets tonight. Nevertheless, during their recent eighth grade graduation ceremony, one of the dissenting board members quoted publicly from the disputed book.

This morning I’m resisting the urge to comment personally. Instead, I’d like to spark a conversation on the issue of free speech. If you believe that Roy Costner did the right thing in refusing to follow his school board’s leadership, would you also agree with the person in Illinois who violated their school board’s mandate by reading from an obscene novel? Or is there an objective difference between the two incidents?

At the same time, if we allow school boards to dictate what graduation speakers can say, where do we stop? If a speaker mentions God at all, will this reference offend atheists? If the speaker doesn’t mention God, will this omission offend believers? If the person speaks on any ethical issue, will someone in the crowd be upset?

Please share your thoughts on our website. As you consider this issue, remember Paul’s admonition: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1). And the apostles’ response when ordered by the governing authorities to stop preaching the gospel: “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).

How will you obey Caesar and Christ today?