8th Grader Faith Based Graduation Speech Canceled
May 23, 2017
When an Illinois school district prohibited an eighth grader from delivering his faith based speech at graduation, a neighbor offered his yard for the delivery instead. The speech included Bible verses and a prayer, apparently details that made officials at the district uncomfortable. What ever happened to the times when quoting scripture was at least respected and not so overtly rejected?
Seth Clark, salutatorian at Akin Grade School in southern Illinois, made his remarks in front of several dozen classmates and supporters on a neighbor’s lawn across the street from the school. Faithwire reports that according to WSIL News 3, the controversy began earlier this month after Clark submitted his speech, which included Bible verses and a prayer, to administrators for review and was told he could not deliver it as written. In a prepared statement, Akin superintendent and principal Kelly Clark argued that while the religious beliefs of students are respected, they cannot be part of a public school ceremony.
“While students are welcome to pray or pursue their faith without disrupting school or infringing upon the rights of others, the United States Constitution prohibits the school district from incorporating such activities as part of school-sponsored events, and when the context causes a captive audience to listen or compels other students to participate,” the principal said.
“Because graduation is an official, school-sponsored event, the law would prohibit incorporating prayer or worship into the schedule of events,” she continued. “We respect the diverse beliefs our students and their families hold, and we strive to educate all such students in compliance with the law.”
While it is true that school districts and local governments cannot sanction religious practices at public events, experts agree that the student was well within his rights to give the speech at graduation because he was not speaking on behalf of the school. Ultimately, Clark did end up giving his speech on Wednesday thanks to the kindness of family friend Rickey Karroll, who just so happens to live across the street from Akin Grade School. Still in his cap and gown, Clark delivered a prayer of thanksgiving and his remarks on Karroll’s lawn in front of about 50 people.
“Them kids, they went through this they had their plan on that, that was the right thing to do in my opinion,” said Karroll. “I think he has a right the right to give his opinion and he wanted to do a prayer, and last count I checked, we are still in the United States of America and it’s the right to freedom of speech.”
In addition to offering a prayer of thanksgiving, Clark’s speech cited scripture and included themes of forgiveness.
“I would like to apologize to all of you that I have hurt at any time in any way,” the student said. “I am not perfect, but as found in 1 Peter 1:16, ‘Be holy as I am holy.’”
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