Roy B. Costner, IV, garnered national attention when he ripped up his pre-approved valedictorian speech, enacted his first amendment right, and began reciting The Lord’s Prayer at his graduation ceremony. An unsuspecting school district got just what they were trying to avoid, and the astonished crowd erupted into applause. His actions spread like a wildfire across a nation once founded upon God and Biblical principles.
Standing When Others Don’t
The prayer was Costner’s response to the South Carolina Pickens County School District’s decision to abandon student–led invocations at board meetings which eventually trickled down to axing prayers at any school gatherings including graduation. Under advisement from attorneys, the district recently backed down on its long-time policy and cowered under pressure from the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) and the FFRF (Freedom From Religious Foundation). The Board’s 3-2 decision went against the heart-felt values in this conservative community.
Roy Costner began his message by respectfully acknowledging those in attendance and mentioning his pre-approved speech. “So we are going to get rid of that one and use a different one,” he said. After tearing up that speech, he pulled an alternate one from the shirt sleeve under his robe, and deviated from what was approved. He graciously thanked the many people who, “Helped to carve and mold us into the young adults we are today.” He honored his own parents by saying, “I’m so glad both of my parents led me to the Lord at a young age.”
Then he continued with, “I think most of you will understand when I say, ‘Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name. . . ‘” As he prayed the crowd began to cheer with some joining him. But that cheer escalated to a roar and thunderous clapping with some rising to their feet. Then he resumed with his prepared speech which included accolades for his graduating classmates.
Was he nervous? “Yes,” admitted Costner. “He did not know what the outcome would be.” But he was willing to take a stand for what He believed. His father feared they might take back his hard-earned diploma. But Roy stood and his father stood behind him.
His address has gone viral on YouTube with currently over 1,000,000 hits. Many are exclaiming, “It took guts to do what young Costner did.”
Costner took the stand many adults have failed to take. Many leaders in our country simply retreat in fear when atheist groups threaten to sue rather than standing in faith and exerting their own first amendment right. The Bible says In Isaiah 11:6, “And a child shall lead them,” but in this case, it was a student. As a result of Costner’s bold actions, many have been encouraged to stand themselves. Only time will tell the impact of Costner’s “shot heard around our country.”
Roy B. Costner with classmates Clay Counts and Logan Gibson. Together they created and manage a website for news regarding their community at www. libertyspeaks.net Photo courtesy of Angela Costner
Although a school district spokesperson said, “Costner will not be penalized for his actions,” the FFRF co-president intends on holding the school district responsible. It appeared by the looks on their faces that many school district employees were supportive of what Costner did. I believe many of them wanted to step up and do the same thing, but were confined by the time, energy, and resources legal battles can bring to a school district with limited funds. Many of them are wondering who will help them to fight these battles if they exert their first amendment rights and allow the voices of their community to be heard.
But Costner has no regrets. He stated, “I want this to glorify God. I hope this will inspire others to stand up for God in our nation.”
A Tough Question – Why Not?
Roy Costner was interviewed on Fox and Friends after his famous graduation speech where he said, “I don’t understand why we can’t pray at my graduation when ‘Under God’ is in our pledge and our Constitution.” That’s a good question considering we’ve only been doing this for over 200 years. Costner wants to know what his freedoms are. In his eyes, “We have freedom OF religion, not freedom FROM religion.
Costner’s stand reminded me of a movie which came out in September 2012 called Last Ounce of Courage—a must see film for all Christians today. The movie is about a small town mayor and his grandson who stand against the ACLU and bring the celebration of Christmas back to their town. When the mayor’s son is cited for bringing his Bible to school, a school janitor alerts the mayor saying, “It’s not against the law—check it out.” Many times when groups cite that something is against the law, it’s not. Many viewers reported people standing up and clapping at the end of the film just as the audience did when Costner prayed. Click here to read my article on Last Ounce of Courage.
A Prayerful Decision
After being informed of his ranking as valedictorian, Costner admits he was surprised. He was expecting at best, salutatorian. But he knew from that moment he would include in his speech the one thing his Bible-Belt community was passionate about—prayer. Costner marveled he was even able to make it to graduation. After his premature birth and being kept alive on ventilators, his father was told his son might not survive. Costner is just beginning to see the reason God allowed him to survive and how God can do extraordinary things through ordinary people. Yes, even a small town boy form Liberty, SC.
Costner was told his speech must be approved and he could not pray or make any reference to God in it. That’s tough for a student whose life is centered on his faith.
After consulting with his namesake father who is a minister at a local church, Costner knew his father was behind him. His father advised him, “Don’t do it for politics, do it for God.” Young Costner spent much time in Bible Study and prayer, and asking God, “What should I do?” He felt led to recite The Lord’s Prayer since it would resonate with all denominations.
The Influence of Young Hearts
According to revival historian, J. Edwin Orr, “Young people in student-led prayer cells have been at the forefront in almost every awakening.” Our country is desperately in need of a revival and maybe our youth will be the ones to ignite the sparks and fan the flames. As one Pickens County High School student, Brett Harris, said after the school board made its decision, “Shouldn’t they be fearing God more than men?” Truth often comes out of the mouths of babes.
As for his dad, he told the world as he was interviewed by Piers Morgan, “I’m proud of him.” Costner’s dad also recently posted on FaceBook, “Roy’s grandfather would be so proud of him if he were alive today.”
Not His Last Stand
After meeting with this well-mannered young man, I have a renewed sense of hope for this country. Roy Costner’s third cousin, Kevin Costner, may be well known as one of the Golden Boys in Hollywood, but Roy will be known as the Costner who awakened many to what they’ve failed to see. If we wish to preserve our freedoms in this country, we must be willing to stand for them and acknowledge the God who made us.
Somehow I don’t think this will be Roy B. Costner’s last stand. During my interview, I could not help but notice the cross Costner proudly wears around his neck. I double dog dare any one to tell him he doesn’t have the right to wear it.
We are a nation desperately in need of revival. We just need a few more Roy’s. And it will take young and old standing together to restore this country. The rest is up to you. Do you have the courage to stand? Is there a little “Roy” in you?
SCH contributor, Ginny Dent Brant met with Roy after his involvement in Boy’s State at Anderson University. Boy’s State brings together the top male high school seniors from all over the state for a week of leadership development, governmental education and team building. During the interview, Brant asked Costner a little more about the story behind his resistance.
SCH – Any regrets?
Costner – None, whatsoever. I did not know what the outcome would be, but I felt led to do it. A local pastor later told me a life was saved due to my stand. My stand was worth it if only for that one person. I just want more people to take a stand.
SCH – Were you nervous?
Costner – Oh, yes. At Boy’s state last year, I was a news anchor and speaking before an audience can give me the shakes. At my graduation, I simply did not know how the crowd would react. God gave me the courage when I needed it.
SCH – My husband and I often say that your generation does not realize we are losing our freedoms one by one. You are clearly one that understands. When did the light turn on for you?
Costner – Until my senior year, I’ve never had any encounters with censorship or felt my freedoms being encroached upon. My friends and I had been attending the school board meetings and were following the issue they were dealing with regarding prayer before school board meetings. I just did not understand how an outside group could come down to our community and tell us what to do. That really bothered me.
SCH – How do you respond to those who say you were disrespectful and disobedient?
Costner – I was not trying to be disobedient or disrespectful. I was trying to live out what Matthew 10:32-33 commands us when it says:
Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven. (RSV)
My faith is an important part of my life. There’s no way I could give a valedictorian speech without acknowledging it.
SCH – In your opinion, would it be okay for the next valedictorian to reference his god even though his god may be different than yours?
Costner – I believe every person, regardless of their religious affiliation has the right to say what they want because of our First Amendment. I may not like what someone else says, but I support their right to express what they believe.
SCH – Have you been surprised by the nationwide reaction to your stand?
Costner – I never expected there to be so much media attention and such an outpouring of support from literally all over the world. I’ve heard from folks I don’t know and whose language I can’t read. I’ve even heard from people who risk their lives to do what I did on that day.
SCH – What are your plans for the future? Do they include taking more stands to preserve the freedoms of this country?
Costner – I plan to attend Clemson University in the fall and major in computer science. The recent events and opened doors have caused me to really seek God’s will. Several organizations have asked me to consider speaking for them on the subject of student freedoms and many churches have asked me to share my testimony. I’m also partnering with a local minister to develop a website called ibelieveinprayer. I’m now considering whether God wants me to study political science, ministry, or possibly journalism? I’m prayerfully taking it one day at a time.
SCH – Have you considered running for political office in your future? And which party do you learn towards?
Costner – Boy’s State has taught me to consider both sides in all issues and the importance of being involved in our nation. Public Service is certainly something I will consider in the future, but I must admit there are some things in politics I think need to change. I don’t like the idea of having to raise money to campaign and then feeling obligated to repay those favors. I want to be clear to vote my conscience. I tend to lean towards Republican views on most issues. If serving in public office is what God wants me to do, I’ll do it.
Don’t miss Ginny’s exciting interview with Christian Producer David Wood on God’s Sequel to The Passion of the Christ
Watch Roy’s Valedictorian speech.