While a Native American student from Alabama could still face a $1,000 fine and has yet to receive her diploma for wearing a single eagle feather on her graduation cap May 23, the Christian Valedictorian of a South Carolina school was cheered for reciting the Lord’s Prayer during his graduation speech.
When Roy Costner IV took the stage June 1 to recite his speech to the graduating class of Liberty High School in Liberty, South Carolina, he ripped up his speech and instead recited the Lord’s Prayer.
As soon as he begins, the crowd erupts in cheers because the Pickens County School District had recently decided to no longer include prayer in graduation ceremonies. In the video you can see no visible reaction from the teachers seated behind him. According to reports on MSN and Yahoo News he was not disciplined for breaking the new rules.
“The bottom line is: We’re not going to punish students for expressing their religious faiths,” John Eby, a spokesperson for the Pickens County School District, told Yahoo News.
Chelsey Ramer, a member of the Poarch Creek Band of Indians, wore an eagle feather in her cap at her May 23 graduation from Escambia Academy in Atmore, Alabama. Before the ceremony the school board wanted all the students to sign a contract forbidding any “extraneous items during graduation exercises.”
Ramer never signed the contract but still faces disciplinary action for expressing her Native heritage during the ceremony. (Related story: “Poarch Creek Student Fined for Wearing Eagle Feather at Graduation”)
So a white student decides to stand up and demonstrate his religious beliefs and gets cheered. A Native student does the same and can’t get her diploma and gets fined? A juxtaposition that hasn’t gone unnoticed by the online community.
A user-generated post titled “So a Native American girl gets no diploma and a $1000 fine for putting a feather in her cap, while a Christian valedictorian disobeys rules by reciting prayer and gets standing ovation” on Reddit has been pushed to the front page of the site by other users with more than 15,000 upvotes and 1,630 comments. And those numbers are steadily increasing.
The original poster on Reddit says, “It’s just frustrating to me that when reading these two stories side by side, it comes across as ‘Hey you Indian, stop expressing your culture! This is no place for your savagery. No diploma for you, and now you owe me money for some reason! Oh, hey Christian kid, you weren’t supposed to be inciting prayer at this event. Ahh well, whattya gonna do? You little skamp, hehehe.’”
User Azbug on Reddit says, “What kills me is she worked for four years to get those grades and walk with her class. Somehow, showing one small bit of honor and pride in her ancestry automatically erases her four years of achievement… The other sad commentary is that young man had the opportunity to speak directly to his class, faculty, and the families of the graduates. Instead of saying something interesting or profound, he chose to cough up something that shows no introspection on growing up… On the other hand, the native girl merely whispers deep personal convictions, and is mercilessly stepped on.”
Ramer’s family is currently not commenting on the events and Escambia Academy is closed until Monday. Maybe next week we will find out if and when Ramer will get her diploma and if the school board will in fact make her family pay the fine. At least she won’t have to pay the fine out of her college fund.
An indiegogo fund started by Dan Morrison, communications director at First Peoples Worldwide, raised the full amount to pay the fine in just five days. As of today, the fund has $1,070 in it. If the family does not have to pay the fine, the money will go toward her education. (Related story: “Poarch Creek Student’s Fine Raised by Online Donations”)
Watch the video of Costner’s speech