Lebanon, Missouri school board member responds to my First-Amendment concerns with snark and defiance

Yesterday I posted a video of Kevin Lowery, the principal of Lebanon High School in Lebanon, Missouri, offering a prayer and a defense of our country’s religious foundations at his school’s graduation. That was clearly open defiance of our government’s ban on public schools endorsing religion. I also posted a list of publicly available email addresses for principal Lowery, the school board members for Lebanon, and the school superintendent, as well as an email I wrote all of them protesting the intrusion of religious beliefs into the public-school ceremony.

One of these members, Mr. Kim Light, has responded, and with an unusual level of defiance and snark.  I reproduce his email here along with his email address, since that was also listed on the Lebanon  page of school-board members cited in my earlier post. Notice that Light’s response was copied to the other members of the school board, the school superintendent, and the principal—the same people who received my email. I’ve put the text of his email in bold below:

From: Kim Light klight@heritagebankozarks.com

CC: “dwidhalm@lebanon.k12.mo.us” dwidhalm@lebanon.k12.mo.us, “john@carmeco.com” john@carmeco.com, “keldridge@central-bank.net” keldridge@central-bank.net, “sheadley@midmobank.com” sheadley@midmobank.com, “jeremiah.hough@independentstavecompany.com” jeremiah.hough@independentstavecompany.com, “bob@oneiloneil.com” bob@oneiloneil.com, “jsriggs@webound.com” jsriggs@webound.com, “klowery@lebanon.k12.mo.us” klowery@lebanon.k12.mo.us

My question is whether or not this is funded and/or supported by the University of Chicago and is this YouTube viewing conducted using university resources and conducted during time that could be used for instructional or research time.

Sent from my iPhone

I have emailed a response to Mr. Light, copying it to all concerned:

Dear Mr. Light:

Thank you for your response—or rather, your non-response—to my complaint and inquiry about Principal Lowery’s remarks at the Lebanon High School graduation.

I see that you are not only avoiding the issue, but being sarcastic: raising the possibility that I am using the resources of the University of Chicago (which is, by the way, a private school, unlike Lebanon High), as well as the time I am supposed to devote to my job, to complain about the intrusion of religion into the Lebanon School District. Let me assure you that my website post, the YouTube video, and the posting on my website about the school’s behavior, were all done on my private time and on my private website on Saturday morning. None of my university’s resources, nor the time I devote to my job here, were diverted to what I wrote, nor, of course, does anything I said reflect the official positions of the University of Chicago.

Now that I’ve answered your question, perhaps you can answer mine: was the principal’s speech vetted and approved by the Lebanon School Board? And what is being done to prevent further Constitutional violations in the future?

I have posted my complaint, as well as the YouTube video, on my website, which gets between 20,000 and 30,000 views per day. My original post is here: https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2014/05/31/public-high-school-principal-prays-at-graduation/. I will also post your email response so readers can see the kind of insouciance and disdain you bring to this serious issue.

Please note that I am not the only one upset at Principal Lowery’s decision to drag religion into the graduation ceremony. If you look at the comments on my post, you’ll see that Mr. Lowery’s oration also offended a graduating senior of your school as well as her parent, who has complained to both the American Civil Liberties Union and the Freedom from Religion Foundation about Lowery’s remarks. As a person with legal standing, the parent of course can be party to a legal complaint against the principal, the superintendent, and your school board. Here is what the parent wrote on my site:

“I was an audience member at this event, and my graduating daughter was very offended and upset by this. I’ve already contacted the ACLU about this. Thank you for your blog post.

. . . I was pretty enraged about the whole event. The strong audience cheers are only going to further ostracize the students who don’t share his belief. It is inappropriate and rude to shame students at their own graduation ceremony for being different–intentional or not.”

I don’t think you’re aware of the serious issues involved here. Instead of writing a snarky email in response to my complaint, you should be pondering how to prevent future violations of the Constitution in your school district. You should also be aware that, given the complaints to the FFRF and ACLU, it is likely that legal proceedings are in the offing, and that your dismissive behavior will not help matters.

I sincerely hope that other members of the school board, the Superintendent of Schools, and Principal Lowery do not see my email in the same dismissive light that you did. Such recalcitrant behavior will, in the long run, only harm your school district.

I am sending your response (and this response from me) to the other members of the Board, and to the superintendent and principal; and will post them both on my website. It is instructive to see this kind of behavior from a member of a public school board, someone supposedly responsible for making sure that students are properly educated for the responsibilities of citizenship.

Sincerely,
Jerry Coyne

*****

I wondered who Mr. Light was, and found that he is President and Senior Credit Officer of Heritage Bank of the Ozarks. Here is his photo from that page (I always like to see what opponents look like):

staffKL

The announcement of his appointment at the bank , and a bit about his background, can be seen in the August, 25, 2011 issue of the Lebanon Daily Record.

 

58 Comments

  1. Posted June 1, 2014 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    You may have to translate “recalcitrant” into Ozark. Four-syllable words don’t often visit that region.

    • Posted June 1, 2014 at 9:06 am | Permalink

      Yea, They’ll have to do the same for “insouciant” as well! I’ll bet that word had ’em all headin’ to Google at the same time. The surge probably fried a few servers!

      • rickflick
        Posted June 1, 2014 at 9:47 am | Permalink

        Google? Maybe something from the shelf.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted June 2, 2014 at 6:50 am | Permalink

        Is “fried green servers” a new piece of Southern cuisine?
        (Is “Ozarks” “Southern” ; it’s certainly not northern, but the fine detail of how people perceive themselves, and are perceived by their neighbours, is a bit of a minefield for foreigners.)

        • Posted June 2, 2014 at 9:58 am | Permalink

          Is Missouri a southern or northern state, you ask? I’m gratified to answer your question: I don’t know. (Glibly humorous remark courtesy of famous Missourian Mark Twain).

          The question at the time of the Civil War was both yes and no, depending upon whom was asked. I think this is still the case today.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Missouri_secession

          During the American Civil War, the secession of Missouri was controversial because of the disputed status of the state of Missouri . During the war, Missouri was claimed by both the Union and the Confederacy, had two competing state governments, and sent representatives to both the United States Congress and the Confederate Congress. This unusual situation, which also existed to some degree in the states of Kentucky and Virginia (with West Virginia), was the result of events in early 1861.

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted June 4, 2014 at 4:33 am | Permalink

            Ah, murkiness in times of war. I should have guessed!

    • Greg Esres
      Posted June 1, 2014 at 9:31 am | Permalink

      “You may have to translate “recalcitrant” into Ozark. ”

      Er, that’s a rather snarky comment, bordering on bigotry. There are intelligent, liberal-minded people everywhere, although their percentages vary quite a bit.

      • JoeyM
        Posted June 1, 2014 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

        +1

    • Stone500
      Posted June 1, 2014 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      That’s pretty unfair. I live in the Ozarks and there are plenty of very intelligent people here. I invite you to visit the region and discover for yourself.

    • Fishy
      Posted June 1, 2014 at 10:49 am | Permalink

      I also don’t think this is fair. Being that I also live here, I know plenty of open-minded, intelligent, and wonderful people who live in this region. A lot of them live here intentionally to help spread diversity and ideas, and people are more open-minded than just this one particular individual

      • Dan McPeek
        Posted June 1, 2014 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

        You are known by the company you keep.

        Oh no, I live in Arizona. Please don’t hurt me! I’m sorry. It was taken out of context; blown out of proportion; I misspoke. Something!

      • quiscalus
        Posted June 1, 2014 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

        My family is also from the Ozarks, just a bit north and east of Lebanon, and I’ve spent much of my childhood and adult life in and around the area. I don’t think anyone is being unfair here, even taking into account one particular individual or another, the reality is, as you most likely well know, that there are more ignorant bible-thumping bigots in the Ozarks than open, liberal, educated, atheists. The Ozarks is the same region that spewed forth the violent anti-semite Frazier Glenn Miller-Cross who shot three people to death in Kansas recently (the Jewish Community center is a place I frequent, in fact). You are far more likely to see rebel flags, anti-U.N., anti-Obama, “I don’t trust the liberal media” or “watch Glen Beck!” along with jesus fish plastered all over local trucks than not. While I don’t think anyone here was denying that there are good, decent, educated people in or from the Ozarks (it was a joke, after all) there can be no denying that sadly, they are less representative of the overall population than people like the board member, the principal, or Frazier Glenn Miller Cross. If it were otherwise, I would be able to purchase a soda at a local store without being accosted by an employee asking if I were saved, as I was too late in noticing the stack of leaflets at the register whose front cover asked “Are Catholics REAL Christians?” or the set of fetuses at various stages of development there to show me what I am “murdering” by being an abortion supporter. True story…and I just wanted a soda pop.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted June 2, 2014 at 6:53 am | Permalink

          as I was too late in noticing the stack of leaflets at the register whose front cover asked “Are Catholics REAL Christians?” or the set of fetuses at various stages of development there to show me what I am “murdering” by being an abortion supporter. True story…and I just wanted a soda pop.

          … but you were thrown out for asking for an abortion to go (on ice) and some spit-roast Catholic on host?

    • grasshopper
      Posted June 1, 2014 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

      This will help you understand where the principal is coming from.

  2. steve oberski
    Posted June 1, 2014 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    I notice that Mr Light, in what I’m sure is a truly clueless display of hypocrisy, responded to you from his Heritage Bank email address.

    My question is whether or not this is funded and/or supported by the Heritage Bank and is this effort conducted using bank resources and conducted during time that could be used for best serving the shareholders and clients of the Heritage Bank ?

    • Posted June 1, 2014 at 9:19 am | Permalink

      Pot thought it caught out kettle. Instead, hoist with own petard. Sunday funnies.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted June 1, 2014 at 10:09 am | Permalink

      Ha! Good catch! It is so ridiculous that he even posed such a question. Even if Jerry did send this email during work, he spends tons of his own time doing university work. People like this and their authoritarian attitudes aimed at controlling others are a blight in society!

    • GBJames
      Posted June 1, 2014 at 10:21 am | Permalink

      Indeed

    • Posted June 1, 2014 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

      Bingo! (Per my comment on yesterday’s post: “I’d say that it’s odd that they’re using their professional email for school business. Not only is this a possible violation of their employers’ email or security policies, but also it exposes potentially confidential school business to monitoring by their employers.”)

      /@

    • jay
      Posted June 2, 2014 at 6:03 am | Permalink

      That is profoundly unprofessional. One should never get involved in posting opinions (even about favorite TV shows or sports teams) from a business account. And this guy is a president??

  3. Mike
    Posted June 1, 2014 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    Interesting that Mr Light (who’s name, judging by his picture, does not refer to his girth; but may, judging by his answer is refer to his intellectual ability and constitutional knowledge) uses his employer’s email to question how you use U of C resources Again we see that ignorance never looks in the mirror.

  4. leonretief
    Posted June 1, 2014 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    Hi Jerry,

    Please take a look at this:

    http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2014-05-29-god-help-us-mogoeng-mogoeng-takes-the-constitution-to-church/#.U4tRLzdOXSd

    Best wishes

    Leon Retief

  5. Mel
    Posted June 1, 2014 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    Thanks JC for your continued vigilance against the relentless onslaught of the religio-institutional complex. My first – yes juvenile – response to this moron was actually “Kim, is that a man’s name?”, but let’s keep it civilized right!

    • SRM
      Posted June 1, 2014 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

      yes, Kim is a male name, but this could hardly be worth addressing

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted June 2, 2014 at 6:58 am | Permalink

      It’s also a family name – or “clan name” might be a better translation – in Korea, with the Kims and the Lees being the two largest groups of … well, it’s complex. But if you’re working for one Kim, there are good odds that a lot of the other people in that office/ department/ business will be from the Kim “clan”, but not the “Lee” clan. And vice versa.

  6. rickflick
    Posted June 1, 2014 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    Hemant Mehta, over at Friendly Atheist seems to think this may not be a violation of the law. Any thoughts about the actual legality from commentators here?

    • eric
      Posted June 2, 2014 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      IANAL but Lowry seems to have intentionally tried to get as close to breaking the law as he could without necessarily breaking it. For example, instead of praying, he did a moment of silence but told people he was going to pray during it.

      Whether he stayed within the law or not by using those sorts of tricks, I don’t know. JAC obviously thinks “not.” We will likely never know because unless someone sues, it isn’t going to get decided in court. But regardless, it is a very good thing for people like JAC to cover it, write letters, and so on. Public disapproval may not have the power of law, but it can be a pretty powerful lever all on its own.

  7. Joe L
    Posted June 1, 2014 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    Aww….how can you pick on a guy who looks like Grampa and Santa Claus….:-)

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted June 1, 2014 at 10:10 am | Permalink

      I hope he isn’t Santa because Jerry will never get his opportunity to pat a baby wild cat then!

    • Posted June 1, 2014 at 10:40 am | Permalink

      Beat me to it, although I was going to go with Burl Ives.

  8. jredwood
    Posted June 1, 2014 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    I posted the letter I sent to the superintendent and principal on the previous thread, saying that I was a graduate of Lebanon High School and that what Mr. Lowery did was wrong. I quickly received a response from him, which I’ll show:

    “I apologize for offending you, and anyone else, with my remarks. I assure you that it will not happen again. I appreciate your honesty and feedback.”

    I was wondering if Jerry had received a similar answer, or if anyone else who wrote to the principal had. He apologizes, but doesn’t concede what he did was wrong and he simply promises not to do it again. I guess he didn’t expect the response he’s been getting.

    I remember while growing up in Lebanon that there was one Jewish family that I knew of and a few dozen Catholic families. I don’t think there were any other religions represented, though I’d think there would be now, 40+ years later. Of course there were no atheists, at least no one who would admit to it. So Principal Lowery probably thought he was preaching to the choir and he did get a lot of positive responses. That doesn’t make what he did right, however.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted June 1, 2014 at 10:11 am | Permalink

      At least you got a polite reply. Most likely he thought that everyone thinks as he does. What is that called? Mind blindness? I suffer from that sometimes too.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted June 2, 2014 at 7:59 am | Permalink

        Most likely he thought that everyone thinks as he does

        If he thought that, while living on this planet and not amongst the Amish, or some Papua New Guinea stone age tribe, then he’s a person of a remarkable narrow mind and thoroughly closed eyes.
        which might, of course, be seen as positive character traits amongst certain bigoted idiots.

    • Posted June 1, 2014 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      No, the only reply I received is the one posted above.

    • Fishy
      Posted June 1, 2014 at 10:54 am | Permalink

      I am very pleased to hear that you have received an apology. It’s a step in the right direction. I would hope that he would consider doing this on a more open, public forum so that those who were not included in the e-mail can also get the apology that they deserve.

      Many people will opt to accept this and be quiet about it, because any sort of outcry with their name attached could lead to negative social consequences. Hence why I am using an alias here.

      I am not wholly anti-religion nor do I hate all those who are religious. I only ask for respect for me and my family to choose our beliefs and not be harassed in-turn.

      This apology is honestly more than I expected.

      • Posted June 1, 2014 at 10:57 am | Permalink

        It’s more than I expected, too, but, to be honest, I’m not going to trust it, or assurances it won’t happen again, until they’re given in writing to either the ACLU or the FFRF.

        Besides, without that how can I get my Censor of the Year award renewed? 🙂

        • jredwood
          Posted June 1, 2014 at 11:15 am | Permalink

          I wrote Principal Lowery back recommending that he apologize to the general public. We’ll see if he goes that far. Maybe he responded to me because I am an actual graduate, not some “carpetbagger” from up north (that’s you, Jerry)!

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted June 2, 2014 at 8:05 am | Permalink

            not some “carpetbagger” from up north

            That civil war still smarts, doesn’t it?

      • Leigh Jackson
        Posted June 1, 2014 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

        Given the arrogant nature of the religious proselytising at the graduation ceremony, Lowery’s apology is the least that he can do. If he’s hoping that a personal apology for the gratuitous offence he caused is going to get him off the hook, it shows he doesn’t really get it. If he had done his duty no offence would have been caused. There is more than personal offence at issue, though. His duty is to uphold the Constitution. He failed to do so and the School must now provide assurances that nothing similar will happen again.

  9. GBJames
    Posted June 1, 2014 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    sub

    • Posted June 1, 2014 at 11:25 am | Permalink

      He’s a bit more outspoken than the 4 Freaks on SCOTUS, but I’m not certain he’s a great deal more primitively conservative.

  10. Hempenstein
    Posted June 1, 2014 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    As a banker, I guess it’s natural for Kim Light to be concerned with appropriate use of resources. So here’s one he ought to be many orders of magnitude more concerned with – the bottomless sinkhole into which resources get poured as a result of religiously-motivated strife. And if he thinks this concern only applies to the other guys, he ought to read Mein Kampf for the Christian-based references.

    It will never end until the planet en masse gets off their fixation on medieval (hell, it isn’t even medieval, it’s pre-medieval!) mythology and starts to embrace educated views of things, rather then merely enjoy the fruits of them (oh, how about desalinization and wind-turbine technology, for instance, just to keep things on the ground).

  11. Fishy
    Posted June 1, 2014 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    The dismissive response from Mr. Kim Light is hardly a surprise. I am upset to hear that somebody who reacts this way is a member of the school board.

    • steve oberski
      Posted June 1, 2014 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made school boards.

      Mark Twain

  12. The Militant One
    Posted June 1, 2014 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    Ya gotta love delusionals. Their arrogant ignorance is always good for a few grins and chuckles – along with some serious contempt for their cluelessness.

  13. Kevin
    Posted June 1, 2014 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    Wishing for prayer in public spaces is nothing short of life’s strongest desire for there to be an afterlife. These people will do anything to prevent their most sacred belief from diminishing. Insecurity wrought by the threat of this life being the only life they get. Good grief. Isn’t this life good enough for them?

  14. Joe
    Posted June 1, 2014 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    I hate religious nutbags like this, I wish the world would be freed from the poisonous grasp of religion sooner than later, but I doubt it would happen before 2070/2080.

  15. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted June 1, 2014 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    “I wondered who Mr. Light was, and found that he is President and Senior Credit Officer of Heritage Bank of the Ozarks. ”

    Ironically Light doesn’t seem to be a credit to his office.

    I assume Light and Lowery are socially tone deaf to their students and the ostracization they not only allow but promote. :-/

    That it is also against the US constitution seems to be the digression in the matter.

    ********

    By the way, Light, Lewis (HBofO president), Lowery, Lebanon!? So much L-iteration!

  16. Diane G.
    Posted June 1, 2014 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    //

  17. Posted June 1, 2014 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    A rhetorical question: Why is it that so many of the folks who claim to be fond of the constitution and/or the bible have clearly never read either one?

  18. Posted June 1, 2014 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    The principal taught his students a rather distasteful lesson. He taught them to ignore the spirit of the law and instead (barely) feign allegience to the letter of the law. In short, by his own example, he showed the grads how to be deceitful.

  19. Daoud
    Posted June 2, 2014 at 6:26 am | Permalink

    As I mentioned in a recent thread about guns, it’s really too bad that all the Americans who are so fiercely protective of the 2nd amendment weren’t as protective about the rest of the constitution, like the 1st amendment. (yes, I’m assuming there’s a lot of overlap between 2nd amendment fanatics and people like the principal here).

  20. Diogenes
    Posted June 2, 2014 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    Bad Santa! Bad Santa!

  21. Tim Keating
    Posted June 3, 2014 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    I wish as a community we would get out of the habit of using words like “offended.” It doesn’t matter one iota whether people are offended. It only matters that it was unconstitutional speech.

  22. lebgrad
    Posted June 6, 2014 at 6:02 am | Permalink

    As I read through these comments, which insult my fellow community members, calling us backward, bigoted and close minded, that complain of beliefs being foisted upon them while they try to foist their non belief on others and painting an entire region with a single brush, it causes me to ask, who here are really the close minded ones? You accuse Christians of looking down our noses at you while you are busy looking down your nose at us. I can not speak for all Christians, I can only speak for myself, but I am not offended by your lack of faith, why be offended by my faith? I feel Mr. Lowery gave a heartfelt and genuine speech that demonstrated his care for the students in his school and his hope for a bright future for them. He did not shame anyone, he did not criticize those who feel or believe differently than him. He spoke from his heart and asked for guidance and protection for them from the God that he believes in, which, as a Christian he should, we should pray for and love believers and non believers alike. Why should he have to apologize for his beliefs, are those who are asking for that apology going to do the same for their beliefs to those that they offend? I see, more and more, that people can say anything they want as long as it isn’t Christian in nature.

    • Posted June 6, 2014 at 6:07 am | Permalink

      I myself am not offended by your faith, but you fail to realize what the real problem is here: Mr. Lowery’s “heartfelt and genuine speech” was ILLEGAL, and forced religion down the throats of some students who didn’t want that. That is a Constitutional violation. Do you realize that, or do you even care? Would it bother you if a Muslim got up and prayed to Allah during the high-school graduation.

      Lowery has already apologized for what he said (see his Facebook page) on his own, claiming that nobody forced him to, because he made a mistake.

      The courts have continually affirmed that school officials praying at school functions is illegal. And it’s illegal for a reason that you don’t seem to comprehend. Or do you think that people like Lowery can violate the law any time they want?

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted June 6, 2014 at 7:54 am | Permalink

      No one is trying to “foist non belief”. We want to foist neutrality on captive school audiences. No one is taking away churches or people’s right to pray – we just don’t want group prayer foisted on those who don’t want it. We want fairness and equality for all believers (of many religions) and non believers. We are the ones that strongly believe in protecting your freedom of religion.


One Trackback/Pingback

  1. […] Yesterday I posted a video of Kevin Lowery, the principal of Lebanon High School in Lebanon, Missouri, offering a prayer and a defense of our country’s religious foundations at his school’s graduation. That was clearly open defiance of our government’s ban on public schools endorsing religion. I also posted a list of publicly available email addresses for principal Lowery, the school board members for Lebanon, and the school superintendent, as well as an email I wrote all of them protesting the intrusion of religious beliefs into the public-school ceremony. [Read more] […]

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