Atheist activists aren’t taking too kindly to a former South Carolina high school student’s recent graduation speech — an address that invoked God and included a full recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) has responded by accusing valedictorian Roy Costner IV of “insensitively” pushing Christian prayer on his audience.
Of particular note, FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor blamed the Pickens County School District for setting a poor example — one that apparently spawned the student’s religious fervor.
“The valedictorian who so insensitively inflicted Christian prayer on a captive audience at a secular graduation ceremony is a product of a school district which itself has set an unconstitutional example by hosting school board prayer,” Gaylor said in a news release published on the church-state separatist group’s web site.
The FFRF pledged to continue monitoring the situation and noted that it appeared Costner was perhaps responding to complaints and letters that the atheist group had sent to the school district. In an interview yesterday with TheBlaze, the 18-year-old graduate confirmed that his prayer was, indeed, a response to the invocation controversy facing his community.
In a press release, the FFRF provided a timeline of events leading up to the much-publicized graduation prayer:
FFRF, a Madison, Wis.-based state/church watchdog, began corresponding with the school board late last year after receiving complaints that the Pickens County Board of Trustees was scheduling students to lead Christian prayers to open its monthly meetings.
FFRF staff Attorney Patrick Elliot sent letters to the board on Nov. 26 and Feb. 25 objecting to the unconstitutional prayer practice. He pointed out, “The Supreme Court has continually and consistently struck down school-sponsored prayers,” and that two appeals courts have barred prayer by school boards. [...]
The school board responded to FFRF’s complaint by adopting a policy on March 13 to continue prayer, but keep it “nondenominational” and have it led by an adult. FFRF says that’s not good enough. The district, it says, has systemic problems that must be resolved through serious changes in programming, training and administrative oversight.
At some point, the school district also decided not to allow prayer at graduation ceremonies anymore either. It was this that Costner found especially unpalatable.
Watch the clip, below:
TheBlaze reached Costner by phone on Friday to discuss his take on the FFRF’s response. In addition to noting that he didn’t receive any negative feedback from the audience and that he found the group’s claim that he was “insensitive” quite odd, he also noted that the school board isn’t to blame for his prayer.
“It wasn’t that the school board had taught me this. I learned this on my own,” he said of his personal faith views. “The district had absolutely nothing to do with it.”
The FFRF, though, apparently begs to differ, as the example the district set purportedly, in its view, led to the public prayer.
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