IN THE SCHOOL
After receiving complaints and a demand letter from Freedom From Religion Foundation, the Pickens County School District in South Carolina illegally banned prayer at school events, but that didn’t stop valedictorian Roy Costner IV from exercising his First Freedom.
The 18-year-old became an Internet sensation after he ripped up his pre-approved valedictory speech and instead spoke from the heart, addressing his faith and earning strong applause from the crowd when he delivered the Lord’s Prayer. Videos of his speech went viral, with one clip reaching more than 700,000 views in less than ten days.
In an interview with The Christian Post, Costner said he was “surprised by all the media coverage and interest in this story,” and that he was simply standing up for his religious freedom.
“Let me first say that every person, regardless of their religious affiliation – whether they are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, or any other belief – should be allowed to say what they want because of the First Amendment,” Costner told The Christian Post. “I felt that my free speech was being encroached upon, because I wasn’t allowed to say what I wanted to say or acknowledge who I wanted to acknowledge.”
And, while Costner said he “never thought people around the country would be talking about it,” he is hopeful that maybe his story will inspire others.
“I wanted to make sure my heart was right before I delivered my speech at graduation, and I spent a long time praying about everything and seeking counsel from people I respect,” he told the news outlet. “I felt strongly led to acknowledge God in my speech, and I believe the prayer honored Him and He is using it for greater purposes now. I am grateful for everyone who has supported me, and I hope others will choose to take a stand too!”
Liberty Institute is proud of Costner for making the bold decision to stand for his faith, and we encourage other students across the country to do the same. His willingness to stand up for religious liberty may not only secure his own personal rights to engage in constitutionally protected speech, expression and practice, but may also impact thousands, if not millions, of other public school students nationwide.
A perfect example of this is Angela Hildenbrand, who was told by a federal judge that she could not pray during her graduation speech — or risk imprisonment if she did. Liberty Institute rushed to Angela’s defense and had the judge’s ruling overturned by an appellate court, allowing Angela to exercise her First Amendment right to publicly pray in Jesus’ name. Not only was this a huge victory for Angela, but it also set a precedent for 45 million public school students across the country.
Because of the years of legal threats and misinformation by groups like the ACLU and Freedom From Religion Foundation, millions of public school students and school administrators have been misled about their First Amendment rights. Everyday, religious freedom is maligned and oppressed in America’s schools. These aggressive groups have only gained more momentum in the past few years, and they will stop at nothing to completely eliminate any expression of faith from our schools.
This is why Liberty Institute launched “The Angela Project,” our nationwide effort to stop the widespread assault of religious freedom in public schools. With your help, Liberty will stop the systematic persecution of students of faith by first educating all involved – students, parents, teachers, principals, superintendents and school boards. And, when government school officials disregard what the law allows, Liberty Institute will take them to court.
So, if a public school censors or prohibits your, or your student’s religious speech, expression or practice, and you are unsure if the actions violate your First Amendment rights, please contact Liberty Institute at 972-941-4444 or through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on students’ rights, download a free copy of the “Know Your Religious Rights Kit,” a comprehensive guide to religious freedom in the public school system.
You can also join the battle and help defend and restore students’ religious rights by giving a gift today! Your generous financial support will help us continue to educate schools districts throughout the country and will help in the defense of students, teachers and school districts fighting to protect their constitutional rights.
About Liberty Institute
Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit www.LibertyInstitute.org.