Freedom of Religion for All

If you aren’t living under a very hard rock, you’ve seen the stories about the teenager who, during his graduation, tore up his school-approved valedictorian speech and proceeded to recite the Lord’s Prayer, to massive applause from his fellow students.

I have found many arguments generated from this boy’s actions, and just about all of them are disappointing to me. It seems there are three different sides to the issue:

  1. You do not approve his actions. (whatever your reasons, if you don’t agree with him, you just don’t)
  2. You approve of his actions because you are Christian and feel he is upholding his religion.
  3. You approve of his actions because he stood up for his right to freedom of religion and freedom of speech.


I’m in the boat with the third side. I’m not here to tell you I’d be reciting the Lord’s Prayer or any prayer alongside him, but I would have been cheering him with all my heart. The concept of freedom of religion is a human right upheld in this country that makes me happy to be American. I would say that, in our time, perhaps it would be more appropriate to call it freedom of belief, not religion, but that is really more nit-picking.

The thing that disappointed me while reading through all the mayhem generated by this boy was not the disapproval of his actions, but the disagreement on why his actions were to be praised, and what that discussion devolved to. They all begin with the expected, “Do you support the boy tearing up the approved speech? Do you support his saying the prayer instead?” This determined the first line of division. Those who didn’t agree with his action did not discuss why to a deep degree, as disapproval of his action was enough. A secondary division, however, comes up when those who support the boy’s actions get into detail about each of the questions. This dissolves camaraderie on the side of the supporters, and now everyone is up in arms.

What stood out for me in this situation was the argument by the religious supporters, who would constantly claim that, “This is a country founded on Christian values. Christians are being attacked for their beliefs in this country, and Christians should stand up and take back their rights.” (Please note, I’m not talking about all Christians here. Some are in the third option, and I greatly appreciate their support of this boy’s decision regardless of their personal religious beliefs. It just so happens that all those who are creating the divide among the boy’s supporters are Christians.)

…Okay, let’s take a hard look at this.

founding fathers religion

The Founding Fathers

They were not all Christian, for one thing. Some were Protestant, some were Catholic, some were non-affiliate, and some were Deist. To be fair, there were no representatives of Islam, Judaism, or any other prominent religion, but with the given divisions in belief they already had, I don’t think it would have mattered much, and in honesty, I don’t see the Founding Fathers’ religions having anything to do with our current rights as citizens to begin with.

The personal beliefs of the Founding Fathers, as well as their possible intentions, personal or otherwise, for the rights they declared in in the documented foundation of America are irrelevant. I could get into a whole blog just on this concept, but for now, just go with the idea that a writer has their personal intention for their writing, but this does not mean that the reader knows those intentions, and even they do, those intentions are only part of the reader’s tools to determine his or her interpretation of that piece of writing. Now, moving on.

FINDING BIGFOOTIt is understandable that the moral construct which the Founding Fathers based the Constitution on were Christian in nature. But when you look at all those involved and each of their beliefs, you realize that these constructs are not moral just on Christian standards, but on human standards. In our time, this is what is craved, a world without necessity of division of rights. If you don’t agree with someone’s beliefs, fine. But just as you have the right to express your belief in a public setting (and those who hear you are expected to be adults about it and ignore your proclamation and get over it), so do those who do not share the same belief as you. This is the combination of freedom of religion/belief and freedom of speech. It is why people have the right to air a TV show called Finding Bigfoot. If people believe Bigfoot exists, they have the right to say so in any public venue they choose. (PLEASE don’t take that as a jab against religious belief. I’m simply making a comparative point, I’m not commenting against religious beliefs in this comparison.)

If the Founding Fathers wanted this country to be Christian, they would have made it obvious, said so in black and white on the parchment when they wrote the Constitution. They would have said Freedom of Christian Religion. But they did not. They left it open to all, and set laws which would be punishable no matter your religious affiliation. If you express your religious beliefs in a peaceful way, simply to express your belief and not force that belief on others, you have the right to do so in this country. To restrict that right of public expression is wrong, such as the restrictions made by this boy’s school against prayer.

Why the Big Fuss?

So the question that is left is, why the big fuss? Well, for those who don’t agree with the valedictorian and his actions, it seemed to mostly be an attitude of “defiance of authority,” that the boy’s actions were initiated simply because he was told not to pray. If these people seriously think that is the amount of thought the valedictorian of the class put into this action, I don’t really know what to say to them but, “Really?”

For those who support his actions under the guise of Christian persecution, it gets quite complicated. From my perspective, I think it’s Christian superiority complexes coming out in the open. And again, not all Christians have this outlook. Those who do, however, have no interest in discussion, compromise, or understanding of those of different views.

These people have the idea that, since they believe this country is founded on Christian values alone, it is a Christian nation. Therefore, Christians have the right to express their beliefs openly, in public. This point can be agreed upon by both #2 and #3 on the earlier list. It goes a step further, though. Those in #3 mention, “If it were a Muslim prayer, half the people cheering wouldn’t have been silent as the dead.” See, #3 realizes there is a division among those who agree with the boy’s actions, and so express that division. The #2 crowd comes out blazing, not only exposing their division, but also exposing their insecurity.

With the idea that this country is Christian in its foundation, Christians have been the majority and the loudest voice for centuries in America. Now, for the first time, minorities are not afraid to voice their rights just like anyone else, and this includes religious minorities. Combine this with the atrocities committed against Christians in other parts of the world, and Christians take this expression of religious freedom and construe it as an attack on their own religion. Instead of respecting others’ right to religious expression, or expression of belief (or non-belief, in the case of atheists), these Christians take it personally and, in doing so, expect the denial of others’ religious rights.

christians_wonka1

How can this be changed? I have no idea. So long as people are willing to stand up for their religious beliefs, Christian or otherwise, there will always be those who refuse the rights of others’ expression while expecting the right to expression themselves. Hypocrisy and arrogance at it finest. I hope that, with the rotation of generations, I will someday see in my lifetime a true shift toward expressive rights for all, and tolerance toward all. Until then, I guess I’m just going to have to shake my head and let it go.

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7 thoughts on “Freedom of Religion for All

  1. Here’s why I disapprove of his actions. First, I have no problem with students praying or reciting the Lord’s Prayer in appropriate circumstances. The problem here is that he was the valedictorian of the school. In other words, he was selected to represent his classmates on this incredibly important day. And, instead of representing all of them, he chose to act selfishly and only represent those who held his beliefs. He utterly failed in his obligations as valedictorian.
    By the way, your post is great. A very well written analysis of the smaller issue as well as the larger context in which it arose. Well done.

    • Very understandable. The question then would be how could he represent them all and uphold his right to religion and theirs at the same time? Recite a prayer directed at all religious deities, going against his own beliefs in the process? Or organize those of other faiths to join him in this action before the ceremony and invite them to recite their own prayers after his?… Actually, yes, I’d totally love that! ^_^

      Thank you for the comment and the compliment. I would have gone into more details, but it would have been a novel of a post. 🙂

  2. Good point is that in our consumerist and so feeling free (ridiculed religions, devaluation of family values …) as financially controlled more societies we see recovering influence of religions.

  3. I read an article about this on Yahoo and it was my understanding that the reason the valedictorian did this was to protest the fact that the school would no longer be saying prayers at the graduation ceremonies. There were a few strange things about the whole incident. 1) I’m not really sure why the speech had to be “pre-approved”. What could the valedictorian of the school say during a graduation speech that would need pre-approval? Extremely bizarre. 2) I’m not sure why a valedictorian would waste such an important platform to recite the ramblings of his cult – the lord’s prayer and demand that everyone listen to him. I can’t think of anything that could be more selfish and stupid at the same time. I’ll never ever understand the inability of people like that to keep their childish beliefs to themselves – instead INSISTING that everyone else be subjected to the non-sense too. 3) It amazes me that the school and its faculty (principle, teachers, etc) said any prayer during any part of any graduation ceremony, past, present or future. It’s such an obvious glaring violation of the establishment clause.
    That being said, there’s nothing to stop any student from using the platform in that manner again. The student isn’t bound by any establishment clause. I very much look forward to the day they have a muslim valedictorian and he begins reciting passages from the Koran. Let’s see all the die-hard fundies stand up and rejoice in his freedom of religion on that day. Something tells me that’s not gonna happen though…..

    • I didn’t get the pre-approved thing either, aside from them trying to make sure there were no religious references in it (I guess?). As for reciting the prayer itself, I completely agree that I’d love to see someone non-Christian recite a prayer at something like this and see what happens. Again, I hold to freedom of religion/belief. I can tolerate hearing your prayer so long as you’re willing to hear my either 1) say why I think your prayer is silly, or 2) recite my own prayer from my own belief and not insult it or demean it as lesser than yours. What I really didn’t get was why none of the faculty got the hell up and stopped him if it was such a big deal and such a big new rule. Apparently it didn’t matter THAT much, or they would have been on his ass in two seconds.

  4. Rana,

    I think it would have been even more tasteless for the faculty of that school to interupt the valedictorians speech (if it’s even possible to be more tasteless than to recite the lords prayer in place of your speech as the school valedictorian). If people wanted to hear stuff like that, they would have gone to a church.
    In essence it’s not really that big a of a deal. However, if that valedictorian’s ultimate goal was to make himself (and anyone applauded him) look like a complete idiot, then I would say “mission accomplished”.
    Perhaps being a valedictorian isn’t that prestigious and much of an achievement afterall?

*Insert your thought here*

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