High school principal's novel trick to sneak God into commencement speech

Published 05 June 2014  |  
AP

A high school principal in Missouri had a few tricks up his sleeve to get around First Amendment restrictions on prayer and mentioning God during his commencement speech.

Most schools in the US avoid religious references at graduation speeches because of the prohibition on public schools promoting or advancing a religion. 

Federal and Supreme Courts have consistently ruled against the inclusion of public prayers at graduation ceremonies, while some schools have taken it upon themselves to ban students and other participants from saying prayers or giving thanks to God. 

But First Amendment restrictions didn't seem to be much of a concern to Lebanon High School principal Kevin Lowery, who found creative ways of mentioning God and praying for his students.

His speech was met with rousing applause from the audience and captured in a video posted to YouTube, where it's steadily clocking up views.

The not so subtle God references included a reminder that "In God We Trust" is the motto of the United States and was included in the original version of The Star-Spangled Banner by Francis Scott Key.  It also happens to be splashed across US currency.  

While "God is reflected in the very fabric" of the US, it would not be appropriate to mention him at a secular graduation ceremony, Mr Lowery continued. 

And instead of prayer for the students, he invited those present to come together in a moment of silence for them. 

"So while it would not be politically correct for us to have an official prayer this evening, I would like for us to have a moment of silence in honour of tonight's graduates," he said.  "Thank you.  And just in case you're interested, during my moment of silence, I gave thanks to God for these great students, their parents, their teachers and for this community."

The video sparked a heated debate in the comments section on YouTube, with reactions ranging from strong support to outrage.

YouTube user Ryan Hettinger wrote: "Its sad to see America fall so far away from her Christian heritage and blessings because of that. Its alarming how many deny this obvious history of our Nation. Just as alarming as the masses believing that they came from a fish... Let this fuel us Christians to humble ourselves before God and pray for this country and the souls who dwell here, and let us shine ever more brightly to share the good news of Jesus Christ and His redemption of mankind."

One YouTube user who described themselves as Catholic, dwhitford123 said Mr Lowry's speech ignored the dignity of those in the audience: "I don't know why he was trying to make a statement like this. Muslims and Atheists (to name a couple) were among those who were required to attend that in order to graduate. He REALLY shouldn't have done that.  As a Catholic, I feel like the dignity and rights of many individuals in that ceremony were ignored. Not cool."

Some comments were more lighthearted. Carlindelco wrote: "Awesome!! However I do know how atheists feel, I mean every time I hear someone mention Thor or see Thor's hammer, I have a complete mental and emotional breakdown just like an atheist.. Because I KNOW Thors doesn't exist and that's why I hate people who mention him.."

William Smith was just plain angry, commenting: "Un. Be. Lievable.  Does this guy really hate the US Constitution so much that he's willing to break the law and pay the consequences... oh sorry, the School district will pay, not  Mr. Lowery.  This illegal stunt will cost the students real money and puff up the inflated ego of the Principal.  I want equality for all people.  F*** Christians who think they should get special rights in our society just because they believe in the supernatural."

What do you think?  Watch his speech here: 

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