Here’s Kevin Lowery, Principal of Lebanon High School in Lebanon, Missouri, giving an address at his school’s graduation. This extended riff on the religious nature of the U.S. is an apparent protest of court decisions deeming it illegal for school officials to pray at school functions.
Lowery brandishes U.S. paper currency to flaunt its “In God We Trust Motto,” and then, at 2:00, offers a moment of silence (a common way around prayer restrictions). After breaking the silence, he tells the audience that during his moment of silence, he gave thanks to God.
This is clearly a violation of the First Amendment. Since I’m the Discovery Institute’s official Censor of the Year, I might as well tell you that I’ve contacted not only Prnicipal Lowery, but also members of the Lebanon School Board and the Superintendent of Schools (see my email below). Oh, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation as well.
Remember, this is truly a slippery slope: if we let even small violations of this kind slide, it becomes easier for the courts to say that they’re “traditional.” Our silence also conveys the message that this kind of stuff is okay.
Here’s the contact information should you wish to do something (it’s easy to cut and paste from my email below):
Lebanon High School
777 Brice Street
Lebanon, Missouri 65536
Sherry Headley (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Member (April 2011 – April 2017)
Jeremiah Hough (email@example.com)
Member (April 2013 – April 2016)
Kim Light (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Member (April 2008 – April 2017)
Robert O’Neil (email@example.com)
President (April 2009 – April 2015)
Jason Riggs (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Vice-President (April 2006 – April 2015)
To: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: Inappropriate religious proselytizing during graduation
Dear Mr. Widhalm and Lebanon School Board members,
I recently watched a YouTube video, located at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctwrBqcBcgM , showing a graduation ceremony during which the principal of Lebanon High School, Mr. Kevin Lowery, blatantly disregarded the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to impose his religious beliefs on a captive audience. He flaunts a piece of U.S. currency, noting its motto “In God We Trust,” without mentioning that that motto was not added until 1956. He cites “God” in the U.S. Declaration of Independence but doesn’t mention that because our founders wished to erect a wall between Church and State in our young country, there is no mention of “God” in the Constitution.
What is most offensive is that Mr. Lowery not only called for a moment of silence (a common way around the prohibition of prayer in public schools), but then told the audience that he used his own moment of silence to ask for God’s blessing.
Lowery’s behavior during that graduation ceremony is a flagrant violation of the First Amendment, and of court decisions that prayer in public schools by officials of those schools is illegal. Apparently, by making a public display of his faith, Mr. Lowery wished to voice his disdain for those rulings, and for our Constitution.
Your students should not have been subjected to this unseemly and unconstitutional display. Do you think it is appropriate to foist religious beliefs on an audience that may include nonbelievers?
I’ve reported this violation to the Freedom From Religion Foundation for further legal investigation, but I would appreciate hearing whether Mr. Lowery’s display was sanctioned or approved by the Lebanon School Board, even in retrospect. If not, I would appreciate hearing how you are going to deal with this Constitutional violation. Can you assure us that this will never occur again?
Professor, Dept. of Ecology and Evolution
The University of Chicago