The Freedom From Religion Foundation blasted what it called the “open defiance” of a valedictorian who delivered The Lord’s Prayer during a high school graduation ceremony last Saturday in South Carolina.
Roy Costner, a senior at Liberty High School in Pickens, created national attention when he ripped up his pre-approved graduation speech and instead led the crowd in a recitation of The Lord’s Prayer.
A video of the speech was posted on YouTube and has since gone viral. It shows the 18-year-old setting aside his speech.
“I think most of you will understand when I say, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven,” he said as the crowd began to cheer.
He concluded his remarks by pointing to the sky and saying, “For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.”
The school district had been in a battle over public prayers after the FFRF filed a complaint objecting to what they called an “unconstitutional prayer practice.”
They hold the school district responsible for Costner’s open act of defiance and what they called a string of problematic religious violations.
“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 set an unconstitutional example by hosting school board prayer,” FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor said in a prepared statement.
A school district spokesperson said the valedictorian will not be penalized for what he did and Costner told Fox News that he has absolutely no regrets.
“I’m happy with what I did,” Costner said. “I want this to glorify God. I want to use this as a witnessing tool and I hope others will stand up for God in our nation.”
He got the idea to deliver the prayer about two weeks ago when he learned that he had been selected as the top academic student in the graduating class. He was summoned to the principal’s office.
“She informed us that we could not have anything about religion or talk about God or Allah or whoever we choose to worship,” he said. “And they had to approve the speech prior to me going onto stage.”
The prayer controversy had gripped the small South Carolina community for quite some time – and many locals took issue with a group from Wisconsin causing problems.
“Our community is very passionate about prayer in our schools,” Costner told Fox News. “I began writing the speech and I knew from the start that I was going to include prayer.”
He talked it over with his father, the youth pastor at Fellowship Community Church. And he also sought the counsel of other pastors in the area.
“They wanted me to make sure I was doing it for God and not myself,” he said.
So Costner spent the next few days in deep prayer and Bible study.
“I asked God exactly what He wanted me to do,” he explained. “I was trying to think of a prayer that would suit all denominations. That’s why I went with The Lord’s Prayer.”
And on graduation day a very nervous Costner took his place at the ceremony – with a serious case of the jitters.
“I was extremely nervous,” he said. “I didn’t know what kind of reaction I was going to get. I didn’t know which way it was going to go.”
And there was another problem. Costner’s speech had already been placed in a binder – on the platform. He would not be able to bring a copy of his replacement speech on stage.
What happened will be remembered in Pickens for quite some time – when an 18-year-old boy defied a group of atheists, agnostics and freethinkers.
“I was always taught to stand for what I believe in,” he said. “That’s what I believe in. I was thanking my God before everyone. I wanted to give him a shout-out.”
As for his critics, Costner quoted a passage of Scripture from the Gospel of Matthew.
“If you deny me among men, I will deny you to the Father,” he said.
He also had a special message to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
“We are not in a country where we have freedom from religion,” he said. “We have freedom of religion.”
Costner said he will be attending Clemson University in the fall where he will study computer science.