Friday, June 7, 2013

And yet more on the valedictorian

In this Fox News article, valedictorian Roy Costner IV is quoted as saying he spoke the Lord's prayer at his high school graduation because "I want this to glorify God. I want to use this as a witnessing tool and I hope others will stand up for God in our nation."

Is a graduation really the appropriate place for a "witnessing tool"? I think this is the most annoying thing about this trend of insisting upon uttering public prayers everywhere-- "witnessing" takes away from the event itself. A graduation should be about, you know, graduation. It's a ceremony to celebrate young people's achievements, and to rejoice that they're moving on to adulthood. Why must prayers be inflicted on a captive audience that way? No one is telling anyone they can't pray before and afterward with their family-- I'm sure plenty of kids and their families do. But why force everyone to listen? It may not be unconstitutional (it probably isn't, if it's genuinely student-led), but it's rude.

People like this seem to have a hard time understanding just why it's rude, probably because Christianity is the dominant religion in America (and especially in small towns), and Christians tend to assume that everyone else is Christian too. But imagine a Wiccan valedictorian getting up in front of a large crowd and reciting the Long Rede, or a Muslim student quoting extensively from the Koran. It's hard to imagine there would be cheering, and it's easy enough to imagine that there might be a coldly disappproving silence punctuated with booing and hissing, and that some people might actually walk out. It's also easy to imagine that the school administrators wouldn't just quietly sit there and ignore the incident. Security could be called to escort the student off stage, and there might be repercussions afterward as well.

In this scenario, it's unlikely that students would be publicly praising the valedictorian for his or her courage, and parents and the school administration would probably be scrambling to make sure it never happened again. And I wouldn't blame them. A graduation isn't the place for proselytizing-- it makes the event all about the proselytizer, rather than the kids who are graduating. If you want to "glorify God," there are plenty of opportunities to do it on your own time. You don't need to take away from everyone else's moment (and coincidentally make a media star of yourself) to do it.

If only Christians could understand that people of other beliefs are just as uncomfortable about having Christian prayers shoved in their faces as Christians would be if forced to sit through Wiccan or Muslim prayers, America might be a better place. Let's hope that other kids won't be inspired to "stand up for God" in this fashion, and that most graduations continue to focus on the graduates, rather than on "glorifying" God.

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