SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — A Missouri superintendent who already planned on retiring at the end of his contract has been suspended for leading parents in a prayer of blessing over their children at a recent high school graduation.
According to reports, the Willard School Board, voted to place Superintendent Kent Medlin on a paid leave of absence until his contract expires at the end of this month.
“The leave will continue through June 30, 2017 when Dr. Medlin’s contract expires,” it said in a statement. “The board’s action was based upon the board’s belief that Dr. Medlin’s high school commencement speech violated Board of Education policies regarding prayer at school-sponsored events.”
As previously reported, in addition to offering general encouragement, 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.
However, following the ceremony, four students took to the media to state 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.”
Some students came to Medlin’s defense, stating that they were blessed by his contribution. They also noted 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.
Medlin likewise told reporters 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,” he said. “I in no way wanted to offend anybody. That was not my intention.”
Medlin told television station KYTV following the suspension that he “thought the best thing that [he] could do was write in a blessing for the graduates” in his speech.
Word of the punishment has disappointed some hearers.
“Unbelievable! God will surely remember!” one commenter wrote. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do! Have mercy on those students and that board!”
“What a shame!” another remarked. “Glad he did what he did and good for him! He got to start enjoying life a month early! Shame on those of you who suspended him. God will remember!”
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.”