SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — A small group of students from a public high school in Missouri are demanding an apology from their district superintendent for incorporating Christian themes into his graduation speech and leading those gathered in a prayer.
According to reports, in addition to offering general encouragement, Superintendent Kent Medlin mentioned “the Savior” and referenced the Bible during the May 13 graduation ceremony for Willard High School. He also invited parents voluntarily to stand for a prayer of blessing over the students.
But some students say that the religious content of his message made them uncomfortable, and they felt “pressured” to stand up for the prayer when others did so.
“I was upset by it. I thought it was offensive to anyone who was attending who was not of the Christian faith,” graduate Joseph Amundson told the Springfield News Leader. “I didn’t stand because it made me so mad that he did that.”
“I came there to graduate, not go to church. It kind of ruined the rest of my night,” senior Preston Schaeffer also remarked to the outlet. “That was the last night of my high school experience and he chose to talk about religion instead of graduation.”
Medlin has offered prayer at past graduation ceremonies, but the four students who contacted the media state that they want the practice stopped. They plan to also reach out to the American Civil Liberties Union to complain.
The superintendent, however, says that he never meant to make unbelievers uncomfortable and that he rather found the evening to be beautiful.
“If my behavior was offensive to anyone then I am truly sorry,” Medlin told reporters. “I in no way wanted to offend anybody. That was not my intention.”
Some students have since come to Medlin’s defense, stating that they too found his contribution to be enjoyable and that students were never asked to stand for the prayer—only parents.
“It was clear to me that Dr. Medlin had no intention of making any graduating seniors uncomfortable when he invited parents to stand with him. We stood on our own. It was our choice. He made no indication to the class of 2017,” graduate Sam Bird wrote to the Springfield News Leader in response to the initial report.
“It is important to me for it to be known that Dr. Medlin took no rights away from my graduating class. He did not force us to do anything, nor was his intention to make anyone feel excluded. As one of the first graduates to stand, I stood on my own. He didn’t tell me to,” he noted.
“I hope everyone publicly realizes that this man truly made WHS graduation a beautiful night,” Bird said.
As previously reported, in 1828, just 52 years after the nation’s founding, Noah Webster, known as the Father of American Scholarship and Education, wrote, “In my view, the Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government, ought to be instructed. … No truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people.”
Webster’s famous 1783 “Blue Back Speller,” which taught students how to read, included God-centered statements in lessons such as “The preacher is to preach the gospel,” “Blasphemy is contemptuous treatment of God,” and “We do not like to see our own sins.”