Valedictorian Who Recited Lord’s Prayer: No Applause Here!

Call me contrary. First, I admitted on Facebook that I don’t like Duck Dynasty (I think the word I used was “loathed”). That’s a post for another day. Now, I’m confessing that I am not applauding Roy Costner, IV, the Valedictorian who tore up his prepared and approved speech and then led the assembled public school graduation crowd in an “impromptu” rendition of The Lord’s Prayer. After reading this story yesterday and then seeing multiple Facebook links about it today, I wanted to share a slightly different perspective.

I say “impromptu” because Costner, who was Valedictorian of Liberty High School in Pickens County, South Carolina, had previously submitted his speech to the school for approval. Somewhere between the time that Costner submitted his original speech and the time he was standing behind the podium to deliver the speech, he decided that he would tear the written speech up and instead recite The Lord’s Prayer. As he did so, some (many?) in the audience began to applaud. I’m not sure that I would have been among that number.

Before my more conservative and/or religious readers pick up stones to throw at me, let me make some clarifying statements. First, I love The Lord’s Prayer. Second, I do not believe that prayers at public school graduation ceremonies should be considered an unconstitutional “establishment of religion” in violation of the First Amendment. Third, I believe that religious speech — regardless of what religion — should be afforded the same First Amendment protections as any other kind of speech. Why single out religious speech — particularly Christian speech — for disfavor?

With that being said, I would neither have applauded nor booed Mr. Costner’s recitation of The Lord’s Prayer. However, I do think that the applause would not nearly have been as loud if a Muslim Valedictorian tore up his speech and began reciting a passage from the Koran. In fact, I’m quite certain that those Christians who were applauding Roy Costner’s courageous act would have come unglued if a Muslim student had done the exact same thing. Many would have seen this as an act of rebellion against the governing authorities and the rules that were rightly instituted by said authorities.  And, they would be right. Just as what Roy Costner did was an act of rebellion against the authorities (i.e., the principal of Liberty High School and/or the School Board of Pickens County) who had been placed over him.

Granted, we may not like some of those authorities. We may think that some of the rules are stupid, such as not being able to pray at a public high school graduation, which is what led Roy Costner to do what he did. However, many Christians, despite the numerous Biblical injunctions to pray for and honor those in authority — including the President of the United States — not only despise the authorities who God has placed over them, but even go so far as to pray for the untimely death of certain authorities. I can’t tell you how many times that Christians who I know have made remarks about President Obama which could reasonably be interpreted to wish horrific acts upon the man, those acts being the opposite of praying and honoring him. Although I disagree with most everything that President Obama believes, I would never pray that he would die and that his children would be without a father (see Psalm 109:8-9 for a sample of what some Christians hope for).

What Roy Costner, IV did at his graduation may have been courageous, but it was also rebellious. He knew what the rules were. He submitted his prepared speech for approval. Perhaps at the very moment that he began to speak or perhaps at an earlier time, Mr. Costner willfully decided that he would break the rules. One could argue that the rules were unreasonable, but I think it would be hard to argue that the rules fall into the category of evil whereby Christians are mandated to “obey God and not man.”

In the end, Valedictorian Costner’s rebellion resulted in applause from some in the crowd, but no disciplinary action taken by school officials. According to Pickens’ County School District spokesman John Eby:

no disciplinary action will be taken against Mr. Costner. ‘The bottom line is, we’re not going to punish students for expressing their religious faiths,” he told Christian News. “He’s a graduate now. There’s nothing we can do about it, even if we wanted to.”

I’m glad that Roy Costner did not get punished for expressing his religious faith. No one — Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, or Atheists — should be punished for their beliefs. However, that does not mean that we get to ignore those rules and/or laws that we disagree with or to thumb our noses at those authorities we don’t like. For those who do, they will get no applause from me. That’s because Christians are called to follow a Higher Authority, who commands:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” (Romans 13:1-7) 


7 comments for “Valedictorian Who Recited Lord’s Prayer: No Applause Here!

  1. June 7, 2013 at 8:14 AM


    Thanks for the words. I’ll admit I was pretty split on this when I heard it. But I’ve landed squarely with you. Given that public prayer is not commanded this rule was to be followed.

    • June 7, 2013 at 9:03 AM


      Thanks for taking the time to read and to comment this morning. I’ve been in Vacation Bible School this week, so when I first read this on Wednesday, I didn’t have time to think about it, much less write about it. However, after I saw numerous friends post the link to the story on Facebook and say positive things about it, I decided to investigate a little further. I like your last statement about public prayer not being commanded. I should have included that in my post as another reason for Mr. Costner to have followed the rule. I would not condemn him for what he did, but I don’t think we should be applauding his rebellion. Thanks and God bless,


  2. Marty Aguilar
    June 7, 2013 at 4:14 PM

    So in light of this, Howell, would you also object to the works of Martin Luther King Jr.? If not, what distinction would you draw? Just curious. No accusation here.
    When should Christians rebel?

    • June 7, 2013 at 4:37 PM


      Thanks for the question. No accusation taken 🙂 As to what Dr. King did, I’m not sure that there was any deceit involved. He practice civil disobedience, which came at a price. While I would not object to the works of Dr. King, neither would I approve of 100% of all that he did. I’m not sure that “rebellion” is what Christians should do in the first place. There is obviously a time and place where Christians should invoke the “obey God, not man” standard of action and conduct (see the example of Peter and John in Acts 4). However, I do not believe that what Mr. Costner did rises to the level either of a Dr. King or a Peter or Paul. To say that it does (which I don’t think you are) minimizes the importance of Christians obeying the authorities who have been placed over them.

      As I have written on my Facebook, I do not condemn what Costner did. I am not mad about. I am glad that the school officials did not discipline him for his actions. If school officials had told him he could not speak about God or his faith (which has not been reported), then I would be the first to defend his right to free speech. I believe that the First Amendment affords the same protection for religious speech as other types of speech. Just because a Valedictorian address mentions God or faith should not be prohibited. However, just because we don’t like a certain rule — in this case, no public prayer at graduation — does not mean that we should thumb our nose at those in authority by tearing up an approved speech to willfully recite the Lord’s Prayer. I am not booing Mr. Costner for his actions, but I am not giving him a standing ovation. In the end, he may have won a victory in the cultural war over the issue of prayer in the public schools, but I’m not sure he won a Gospel victory. Hope that helps. God bless,


  3. June 8, 2013 at 1:48 PM

    Thanks for the clarification, Howell. I always enjoy reading your blog!

  4. June 10, 2013 at 3:09 PM

    Just to clarify, Mr. Costner’s actions were a response to a letter sent to the Pickens County School board by Freedom From Religion, trying to get the board to stop praying before each meeting. There are several articles on the matter in the local news, and many county residents responded to the letter with support for the prayer invocation. If you like, you could read up on it starting here:

  5. July 7, 2013 at 4:23 AM


    First Mayberry and now Pickens County? Do you realize you are calling attention to a valedictorian from a school named “Liberty” located in a county named after Revolutionary War Hero Andrew Pickens? Man, being a Lawyer it seems you would have realized this kind of Patriot spirit runs deep in this part of the country. 🙂

    Seriously, I do want to draw your attention to something of a mis-spoken word that intimates something that did not happen. You write; then led the assembled public school graduation crowd in an “impromptu” rendition of The Lord’s Prayer.”[Emboldened Mine] While trying hard not to draw on semantics it still seems to intimate the young valedictorian charged those assembled “repeat after me”. Something he did not do. Thus, his speech, while not approved by the school board, was still just what he intended it to be–a peaceful act of rebellion. He never incited anyone to riot and his actions were not received as the act you appear to make it out to be.

    While your position of a Muslim doing the same would have brought about the same response, I have only one question for you. Have you looked at the background of the current sitting Governor of South Carolina?

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