Lebanon High School Principal Kevin Lowery reminded those attending the school’s recent graduation ceremony how religious liberty is being threatened. He did so by demonstrating the absurdity of “political correctness” and how activist judges have obliterated the original intent of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. His courageous act garnered national attention, including a three-minute video of his presentation that has gotten more than 117,000 views on YouTube. Predictably, it attracted criticism from blood-boiling atheists as well.
Lowery reminded the attendees that the nation’s motto of “In God We Trust” can be found on our currency and in Francis Scott Key’s original version of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Then he pointed out the dichotomy that even though “God is reflected in the very fabric” of our nation, it would be inappropriate to mention God at a graduation ceremony. “So while it would not be politically correct for us to have an official prayer this evening, I would like for us to have a moment of silence in honor of tonight’s graduates,” he said.
After a few moments, Lowery offered this gem: “Thank you. And just in case you’re interested, during my moment of silence, I gave thanks to God for these great students, their parents, their teachers and for this community.”
The audience responded with enthusiastic applause – and well they should have. After all, how in the world could anyone be offended by a high school principal praying for nothing but good things for the students? No church was endorsed. No denomination was cited. No one was forced to participate. No religion was singled out. He was respectful to all attending and while he mentioned he prayed to God, he did not say His name, leaving to each person’s conscious to decide. No harm, right? Wrong. Given the reaction of some atheists, you would have thought Lowery committed a crime against humanity.
“I find this extremely objectionable,” said Dave Muscato, a spokesman for American Atheists. “I think it’s clear that Kevin Lowery violated the spirit of the First Amendment separation of religion and government. This was an underhanded and dishonorable way for him to forcibly inject his personal religious views onto his students and the others present and into his role as a government official.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation weighed in, calling Lowery’s remarks a “serious constitutional violation” in a complaint letter sent to Lebanon School District Superintendent Duane Widhalm. “It is well settled that public schools may not advance, prefer or promote religion,” the letter states. “The Supreme Court has routinely struck down prayers at school-sponsored events, including public school graduations.”
Neither Lowery nor school district officials have commented on the matter. No need, too. Lowery did nothing wrong. In fact, he did us all a service by demonstrating how such criticism is ridiculous. It also reminds us that there are people who want religious activity confined to worship – or held strictly in the confines of a building. For Christians, we cannot accept such a limitation because of the Great Commission.
This latest clash demonstrates why so many in our nation feel their religious liberty is in jeopardy. A recent Pew Religion Research Institute poll found that 54 percent of Americans believe their religious liberty is being threatened. Among white Protestants the number skyrockets to 83 percent. Those aged 65 or older agree by 61 percent. Conversely those who disagree are the religiously unaffiliated (62 percent) and young adults (59 percent).
The threat to religious liberty is on the minds of Southern Baptists. I hear it everywhere I travel. While the percentage of younger Americans who do not think religious liberty is threatened is too high, I do think some are starting to have second thoughts. It is important that they see us engage in the marketplace of ideas – as free Americans and faithful Christians –in a winsome way that causes them to recognize that the government is not the Lord of the conscience. Our government was founded to protect our rights – including religious liberty and freedom of conscience – not take them away or restrict them to simply worship within the confines of a church, synagogue or mosque.
Should we be frightened? Lowery wasn’t, nor should we. Our Lord has already won the victory for us. We must engage with truth and love tthose who would deny us our liberty or even hate us. They hated our Lord so much they crucified Him, yet he overcame death because of His love for us. So let’s confidently enter the marketplace of ideas because we are blessed to be free American citizens motivated by love, faithful to God and determined that good will prevail.