Roy B. Costner IV garnered national attention when he ripped up his pre-approved valedictorian speech, enacted his first amendment right, and began reciting the Lord’s Prayer at his graduation ceremony. An unsuspecting school district got just what they were trying to avoid, and the astonished crowd erupted into applause. His actions spread like a wildfire across a nation once founded upon God and biblical principles.
The prayer was Costner’s response to the South Carolina Pickens County School District’s decision to abandon student-led invocations at board meetings, which eventually trickled down to axing prayers at any school gatherings. Under advisement from attorneys, the district backed down and cowered under pressure from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF). The Board’s 3-2 decision went against the heart-felt values of this conservative community.
Costner began his message by respectfully acknowledging those in attendance and mentioning his pre-approved speech. “So we are going to get rid of that one and use a different one,” he said. After tearing up that speech, he pulled an alternate one from the shirtsleeve under his robe, and deviated from what was approved. He graciously thanked the many people who, “Helped to carve and mold us into the young adults we are today.” He honored his own parents by saying, “I’m so glad both of my parents led me to the Lord at a young age.”
Then he continued with, “I think most of you will understand when I say, ‘Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name … .’” As he prayed, the crowd began to cheer with some joining him. But that cheering escalated to a roar and thunderous clapping with some rising to their feet. Then Costner continued with his prepared speech that included accolades for his graduating classmates.
Was he nervous? “Yes,” admits Costner. “I did not know what the outcome would be.” But he was willing to take a stand for what He believed.
Costner took the stand many adults have failed to take. Many leaders in our country simply retreat in fear when atheist groups threaten to sue rather than standing in faith and exerting their own first amendment right. The Bible says in Isaiah 11:6, “And a child shall lead them,” but in this case, it was a student. As a result of Costner’s bold actions, many have been encouraged to stand themselves.
Although a school district spokesperson said, “Costner will not be penalized for his actions,” the FFRF co-president intends on holding the school district responsible. Though many school district employees may support what Costner did, they are confined by the time, energy and resources that a legal battle would consume if they took a stand.
Costner said he as no regrets. He stated, “I want this to glorify God. I hope this will inspire others to stand up for God in our nation.” Costner was interviewed on Fox & Friends after his famous graduation speech. On the show he said, “I don’t understand why we can’t pray at my graduation when ‘Under God’ is in our pledge and our Constitution.” That’s a good question considering we’ve been doing this for over 200 years. In his eyes, “We have freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.”
Costner’s stand reminded me of a movie that was released in September 2012 called “Last Ounce of Courage” – a must see film for all Christians today. The movie is about a small-town mayor and his grandson who are motivated to stand against the ACLU and bring the celebration of Christmas back to their town. Many viewers reported people standing up and clapping at the end of the film, just as the audience did when Costner prayed.
Costner was told his speech had to be approved and he could not pray or make any reference to God. That’s tough for a student whose life is centered on his faith.
After consulting with his father, who is a minister at a local church, he knew his father was behind him. His father advised him, “Don’t do it for politics, do it for God.”
Young Costner spent much time in Bible study and prayer. He asked God, “What should I do?” He felt led to recite the Lord’s Prayer since it would resonate with all denominations.
According to revival historian, J. Edwin Orr, “Young people in student-led prayer cells have been at the forefront in almost every awakening.” Our country is desperately in need of a revival. Maybe our youth will be the ones to ignite the sparks and fan the flames.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ginny Dent Brant is an author, speaker, counselor and soloist. She is editor-at-large for Sonoma Christian Home Magazine. Visit www.ginnybrant.com.)