The tiny rural town of Akin in southern Illinois might not have a post office, but it can now count itself among the players on the national stage after an eighth-grade boy was barred from giving a graduation speech over its religious content.
Akin Community Grade School salutatorian Seth Clark submitted his speech for approval, the Benton Evening News said, but a local citizen complained about the content of the address, which included references to God and the Bible. So school officials told the 13-year-old he couldn't deliver the speech, the paper reported.
Image source: WSIL-TV video screenshot
"As a public school, it is our duty to educate students, regardless of how different they or their beliefs may be," a statement from Akin Superintendent and Principal Kelly Clark to the paper reads. "While students are welcome to pray or pursue their faith without disrupting school or infringing upon the rights of others, the United States Constitution prohibits the school district from incorporating such activities as part of school-sponsored events, and when the context causes a captive audience to listen or compels other students to participate."
Enter Rickey Karroll — a friend of Seth's family — who told WSIL-TV he offered his property across the street from the school so Seth could give his speech.
And that's exactly what happened.
Right after the May 16 ceremony, Seth — still dressed in his cap and gown — marched across the road along with classmates and dozens of supporters, the station said.
He then stood on the front porch of the house on Karroll's property and read his speech.
Here's the clip:
"I think he has a right ... to give his opinion, and he wanted to do a prayer," Karroll told WSIL, "and last count I checked, we are still in the United States of America, and it's the right to freedom of speech."
Rickey Karroll offered his house for Seth Clark to give his graduation speech. (Image source: WSIL-TV video screenshot)
Karroll told the station that when he was growing up the graduation ceremony always included a prayer.
"If you have someone who has a different religion, a different belief ... you know, we can't stop them from saying what they believe in, so why should you stop someone who believes in God?" Karroll asked WSIL.
The station added that Seth's parents — who are school board members and declined to speak on camera — said they're proud of their son but "don't want this to overshadow the accomplishments the kids have had over the years."
(H/T: Todd Starnes)