Lebanon principal issues a non-apology

June 4, 2014 • 8:52 am

Below is the statement of “apology” apparently made by Lebanon High principal Kevin Lowery (and issued by the school district) after the Freedom from Religion Foundation (and other people) complained about Lowery’s intrusive prayers at the school’s graduation:

“I sincerely apologize if any comments made in my speech offended anyone in the audience and our community, especially any of our students, and will strive to not let this happen again. Our district endeavors to fully comply with the laws and Constitution of the United States, and to provide quality education to all of our students. I wish each and everyone of the 332 fine young men and women who graduated that night the best in all of their endeavors.”

-Lebanon High School Principal Kevin Lowery

For additional information Contact:
Jacy Tilton
Director of Communications, Lebanon R-3 School District

I am usually quite charitable about accepting apologies, but this isn’t a genuine apology.  Apologies of the sort that say “I’m sorry if I offended anyone” do not show remorse for the conduct, but merely for “offending” people, some of which, of course, Lowery doesn’t think should be offended.  Further, he doesn’t say it won’t happen again, but simply that “I will strive not to let this happen again.”  Strive?  Can’t the principal assure us that it won’t happen again?

Finally, if the district endeavored to fully comply with the laws and Constitution of the U.S., why did Lowery deliberately and knowingly violate those, for in his “prayer speech” he claimed that he knew that what he was saying was “politically incorrect.”

The proselytizing of the school’s officials, teachers, and students goes far deeper than the prayer at graduation, as a student attested yesterday. There are “prayer circles” before exams, no teacher dared host a “diversity club” for nonbelieving and gay students, students proselytize for Christianity in class, and apparently, Principal Lowery wasn’t a stranger to Constitutionally-banned prayer. This is from the student’s letter:

What Mr. Lowery did at the 2014 graduation ceremony is hardly the first time that he danced around the Separation of Church and State for prayer.  At the previous graduation ceremony, he said that he is not allowed to say a prayer, but if he could say a prayer, this is what he would say.  He added that he would encourage everyone to bow their heads.  And if this was not ambiguous enough, he added an “amen” to conclude his statements.

I was surprised.  I tried to discuss this with like-minded classmates who informed me that he often prayed before school sponsored sports events.  This was of course allowed due to the majority of Lebanon being religious—a population around 15,000 and a church on every corner.

What was “allowed” is, in fact, unconstitutional.

Principal Lowery’s apology is insufficient.  What he should have said is that his behavior was wrong, why it was wrong, and that he will assure everyone that the school will, in all its activities, comply with the requirements of the U.S. Constitution.

I am not involved in this issue any further, as it’s in the hands of the FFRF’s lawyers. But my own view is that Lowery’s apology is a sham, and that any legal body needs a stronger assurance that there will be no more prayers at public school activities. And, it seems to me—given the depth of religious indoctrination in that school—the FFRF might want to look into things bit more deeply.

For the nonce we’re assured that the Principal will strive not to pray at graduation. That’s not good enough. He needs to stop talking about God and praying in his school. Let him praise God on his own time, and in his own home and church.


83 thoughts on “Lebanon principal issues a non-apology

    1. Pretty much. Note the passive construction: he’s not apologizing for making those comments, but for letting them be made in his speech.

      1. Passive voice is a time-honored tactic for trying to downplay one’s misdeeds.

        It seems as if he’s almost suggesting that those comments had a mind of their own! They’re the ones what done it! But I’ll apologize on their behalf. Ain’t I big?

  1. It reads a lot like one of those classic, “I’m so sorry I got caught”, kind of apologies.

  2. At this point, I’m thinking that it’s more likely than not that Mr. Lowery’s career in education is coming to a rapid and dishonorable close.

    The district is in serious hot water, and they’re not doing themselves any favors. We now know that they don’t give a flying fuck about the Constitution. If they think that this not-pology is going to be enough to make everything better, they’ve got another thing coming. Instead, they themselves are rapidly closing the doors on their only chance for escape.


  3. I’m sorry if the bullet that came out of my gun caused anyone extensive tissue damage that may have resulted in death. That certainly wasn’t my intention.

    1. Nice, but not nearly un-appologetic enough. Perhaps:

      “I sincerely apologize if any bullets expelled into the bodies of spectators by any gun I may have been holding during my speech offended anyone in the audience and our community, especially any of our students, and will strive to not let this happen again, by which I mean, strive to keep them from complaining in future.”

  4. I wouldn’t grant that he’s showing remorse for offending people. His wording, used by countless other notpologists, means “there’s nothing wrong with what I did, it’s a shame you decided to take offence.”

  5. What he should have said is that his behavior was wrong, why it was wrong, and that he will assure everyone that the school will, in all its activities, comply with the requirements of the U.S. Constitution.

    I would’ve even accepted a student-focused notpology from him. I.e., a response that said he recognizes this is the students’ day, honoring all graduating students regardless of faith, and future graduation addresses will focus on applauding the accomplishments of the students rather than Lowery’s own opinions.

    1. Perhaps it should be deemed that none of the rest of the Amendments applies to Mr Lowery either, since he ‘s tossed out the First. He’s therefore naturally subject to unreasonable search and seizure, self-incrimination, cruel and unusual punishments, double jeopardy, chattel slavery and all those other wonderful things that were allowed in the good old days. I don’t know if this is considered ‘standard’, though.

    2. Nope. You sue, the court decides whether your case has merit and if so, what the appropriate remedy will be. John’s response was obviously somewhat tongue in cheek…

  6. Also, though I know anti-prescriptivists and ad hom pointer-outers will get after me, I can’t take seriously a statement that both references “quality education” and splits infinitives.

    1. Ant-stupid-prescriptivist here. Splittable infinitives are part of English grammar, like it or lump it.

        1. That was of course an (almost) quote from Doug Adams – “to boldly split infinitives no man had split before”

  7. Let him praise God on his own time, and in his own home and church.

    Why the hell isn’t this enough for these people? They can pray at home, in public on their own time, in their church. Why isn’t that enough? Why do they have to do it at work – in front of their students – too?

    1. Persecution complex.

      “Christian fundamentalists in the Bible Belt feel persecuted or “oppressed” whenever they find someone that doesn’t share their particular worldview. On closer examination of such claims, it’s more commonly the case that claims of persecution are better explained as annoyance at the removal of privilege or the curtailment of their ability to force their views on others.”

    2. I think it’s a bit like when a dog pisses on something to mark its territory. Our country, our government, our school. Sniff and learn; we’ve staked a claim. Nonbelievers are like guests. Now don’t tell us what to do in our own house.

      I find that thinking of violations of the separation of church and state as puddles of urine is helpful in getting a handle on understanding the situation. It’s not about being “offended” per se; we just wish they’d use the proper receptacle.

  8. And lets not forget the “if”. “If” your comments offended anyone? It’s been confirmed that your comments offended multiple people, including students at your school. Not that “offense” is even the core issue here.

      1. I have no idead what that means. What kind of compiler? What does abstract mean when used as a verb? And what does “this” refer to? Seriously. Teach me something.

        1. Admittedly, my “joke” was somewhat abstract itself. So here goes an attempt to explain it. Take any high level computer programming language and a compiler for it will make optimizations on the way to converting it to a logically identical chunk of assembly code and ultimately machine code that specific hardware can understand.

          With the concept of a simple “if” statement, superfluous logic may be abstracted away so that the code ultimately runs faster. This case would run something like this:

          Boolean someone_is_offended = true;

          If (someone_is offended)
          Do_apologize ();

          In the above code, a good compiler would realize that the if statement is meaningless since the condition is always true based on the hard-coded setting of the someone_is offended value being true. That is, there’s no condition where the value could be false and the ultimate instructions to the computer would simply be to run the do_apologize function.

          If we think of Principal Lowery’s brain as a computer (and one in a major need of an upgrade at that), his statement in English should likewise be reduced to “I apologize” with no conditionals attached.

            1. “Thanks. That’s definitely a specialist joke.”

              It is indeed a specialist joke and an excellent one indeed. As a fellow specialist I much appreciated it. However I do believe that chris owes a limp psudo-apology to any non-specialists here on WEIT who may possibly have been inadvertently confused by this joke, even though they really ought to have enough nouce these technological days and understand the basics of compiler structure.

              1. Very well then. In the future I will strive to make my references appeal to a broader audience, avoid specialty terms and use more human readable pseudo-code in my examples.

                Damn it! I just did it again! Maybe I should stick with interpreted languages…

    1. Man, you sound like a real party animal. I’ll drop you a line the next time the drill crew come back onshore and are looking for a proper night-long debauch.

  9. When I was a Lebanon High School student in the early 70s there were no “prayer circles” and no prayers before assemblies and games (though our football coach made us players pray before games), nor at graduation. I don’t ever recall someone saying they would pray for someone who wasn’t a Christian, but then I never knew anyone who admitted to not being a Christian (I belonged to a Southern Baptist church then, but I was well on the way to leaving it behind for good). The only reason I can think of for the change is that Xtians see the number of the non-religious rising and feel threatened. They’re circling the wagons against a foe that’s getting bigger and stronger. I can’t wait for the horde to overrun them.

    1. This does not surprise me.

      Religiosity has always waxed and waned, but I think your right, they are pushing back against what they perceive is an encroachment on their rights. They are wrong, but they can’t see that, only that their power is slipping away.

      Fox News and all it’s ilk are not helping, indeed, they are stoking the fire. I think Fox News’s Rupert Murdoch is greatly responsible for much that is wrong with the USA. He had the opportunity to use his power, money and position for the benefit of the US people, but instead he used it to get more money, more power and to advance his backward misogynistic views and power at any cost.

      Republicans used right wing Christians, and Murdoch used them both. Now they are set in an incestuous relationship where all their ignorance and hate are amplified as they feed on each others fear and propaganda.

      I believe it is getting close to a breaking point and I think it’s going to be pretty ugly when it does break.

      1. You’re spot-on correct in your analysis.

        The rise of militant fundamentalism in all of its ugly stripes is proud to show their colors and wear their hoods and Nazi neck tats.

        So is the tendency toward self-imposed ignorance, indifference and retreat from interest beyond anything related to self on the rise.

        With evil Morans like the Koch bros successfully stirin’ up large segments of our population to work against their own best interests. At the same time, ignorant jackasses are walkin’ around town w/ AK47s strapped to their back and 9 mils hangin’ on their hips proclaiming themselves to be the real “patriots,” I too am unable to see very many happy days ahead, either for the American people or American democracy.

        Just try to imagine what this country will begin to experience if Ted Cruz, Rubio or Louie Gohment managed to sit in the Oval Office beginning in 2017.

        Frightening, isn’t it?

        1. There are (at least) two books that speak directly to this:

          “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America” by Chris Hedges

          “Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism” by Michelle Goldberg

          Both are excellent.

      2. There was a huge resurgence of “born-agains” in the 1980s, mainly, i think, in reaction to the “sinful” 1960s and 1970s. Reagan came into office. People started building mega-churches. The US conservatives started flexing their muscles. All of a piece.

        I also grew up in the 60s/70s and I remember no blatant religiosity either. Certainly not at school.

        1. They were starting to be more vocal in the mid-70s in the Midwest at least. I think the conservatives went after the Republican vote in order to cut off enough of Jimmy Carter’s base to ensure a win for Reagan (who was not particularly religious)

          1. My memory agrees with yours about when the evangelical movement started to grow. A center where leadership was located is Colorado Springs. If you google you’ll find out who operated there. Two siblings lived in the area at that time. They were normal when they left, have been obedient to movement authority figures ever since.

            There were an estimated 20 – 30 million godly vs earthly in the mid ’70’s who turned to jebus & stopped voting to demonstrate total disdain for all things secular. Reagan’s advisor’s realized this was about the number of votes he required to defeat Carter — that and his dealings with mullah’s to string out hostage release in Iran.

            So Reagan’s team brokered a deal with James Dobson et. al., promising the end of legal abortion if religious conservatives registered and voted GOP. Those single issue voters support policies devastating to their economic interests 34 years on and counting, praying for the red tide to end abortion before they divert their attention to other issues.

            Laissez Faire libertarians love this single-minded doggedness and willingness to volunteer as slavish blind followers, while otherwise despising them. The libertarian eliminate-public-oversight/control-of-business elites are the only ones getting a positive return on the political investment. Everybody else continues to slip deeper into the hole.

            The joker in this deck: those ~25 million Christian Conservative voters faithfully turn up at local elections every two years (unlike idiot progressives who mostly vote only for the weakest office on the ballot — the US Presidency), where they select local and state government and the Congress. Hence shit school boards, state governors who reject Medicaid funding, a House that stymies all legislative proposals post-Jan ’09, etc.

      3. I think Fox News’s Rupert Murdoch

        I think that you’ve got the cart of your metaphor mixed up with the dog that yaps endlessly. Or something.
        Murdoch is the tail – Fox News (and the Scum (British “newspaper”, with soft-core porn) are several of the tails hanging from the dog that is Rupert Murdoch. The man is a menace to society.

  10. Typical not-pology, add hurt to damage by ‘sincerely’ blaming the victims for taking offence!

    That is, by the way, not “politically correct” either as it is offensive.

  11. Called it last comment thread. Too bad I can’t take any real credit for that; his “apology” construction was sadly predictable.

  12. As Jerry has mentioned once or twice in these posts, and as the student letters so clearly show, the worst thing about situations like this is not that a graduation ceremony at a public school is tainted by religion. The worst thing is what happens when that type of behavior is allowed to go unchallenged for a significant period of time.

    The result of that is what is clearly shown, by the student letters, to be the case at LHS. An environment that, from the very top down, divides the students and encourages persecution of those that don’t fit in. An environment where the students are pressured to conform or pay a real price, not just from their peers but from the adults in charge. An environment where the highest priority of the adults in charge is supposed to be to support and help each and every student to maximize their potential, but is instead to make sure that jesus receives the adulation that the Lowery’s of the world think is his due.

    I’ve got no problems calling this kind of thing child abuse. And on a coldly pragmatic level, it is damn sure a waste of resources (human potential) that our society can ill afford.

    1. “allowed to go unchallenged” is too soft here. Non-believers are bullied, so the correct phrase would be “continue to occur thanks to the threat of persecution.”

      1. I agree with your take there, but I didn’t mean “allowed to go unchallenged” by students, or others, stuck in that situation. I meant “allowed by” the various regulatory bodies that are responsible for seeing to it that the rules / laws are followed. From county to state to federal levels. Of course peer pressure, bullying and threat of persecution are fairly relevant at those levels as well.

        1. It’s a shame that it takes a complainant with standing to put an end to these things. What’s wrong is wrong no matter if someone was “injured” or not

    2. I am the mother of the child who wrote the first letter. You hit the nail on the head here. It not only interferes with the students’ education, it contaminates it.

      1. My hat is off to you for making such a positive contribution to society, namely your child. I can only hope that I do as well.

      2. Let me second darrelle’s comment. Best wishes to you; your courage and insightfulness are greatly appreciated!

  13. While it’s not a sincere apology I still revel in the fact that these brave warriors for Jesus – who are going to defy the politically correct heathens, dammit – fold like cheap tents as soon as a little pressure is brought to bear.

  14. I am vulnerable to forces outside my control and innately quite aware of this. Those forces include economics, the environment of this planet, citizens of my country who do not share my religious predilections, other races, and Muslims (also in the other races category, so double-fear here, minimum).

    The only thing I am mentally equipped to do in response to fears that arise from these perceived threats is to entrench myself in faith, increasing my emotional commitment to dogmatic devotion to ancient unchanging and uncompromising doctrine.

    Not only does this action require no difficult thinking or reasoning, it actually discourages it. I just calibrate my mental set point the one time, and then go along with the flow the rest of my crowd is in.

    Either you’re with us, or you’re agin’ us.

  15. “he doesn’t say it won’t happen again”

    An apartment complex manager once told me that after an initial complaint for noise, a resident will behave for a couple of weeks; after the second complaint, they’ll behave for a few days, but complaints thereafter are ignored. It takes an eviction notice to really catch their attention and produce a permanent behavior change.

    1. Police citations for noise nuisance work wonders in my area. Same principle, of course. Friendly correction is good for a temporary respite, but only strict enforcement creates an environment where people avoid being a nuisance in the first place. Sad, but true.

  16. I … will strive to not let this happen again

    — but hey, if I hear the call of the Holy Spirit, who am I to resist?

  17. “Strive to not let” what exactly “happen again?” Having non-Christians attend the graduation? People filming the speech and posting in online? People getting offended by god references?

  18. Perhaps the only solution is that he be removed from the position that he is (ab)using to pursue his own agenda?
    That fear that the teachers show in their not supporting the non religious student groups is a sure sign that something is seriously wrong in the school.
    As a sideline, are there any other public schools that students could transfer to in order to get away from this school?

  19. and will strive to not let this happen again

    Uh, huh. I’ll just bet you’re going to “strive”.
    FRFF’s lawyers and their “intelligence sources” (sorry, “snitches”) already in position in Lebanon OZ[* see below] will need to be watching out for the striving. They’ll start using every technique that they can think of to prevent this from happening again, starting by getting rid of the “intelligence sources” and such like.
    The crime here was not (in the view of the Lebanese, who darken the name of a fine hashish-growing area) the use of prayer in a State-supported forum, but the informing of those filthy, foreign (well, un-American) activists of what was happening here. That must not be allowed to happen again.
    So, existing and up-coming non-Christian students at the school can expect to be hunted down, interrogated and marked (Cained? Or dis-Abled?) for exclusion from any activities which might be the source of further bad publicity. Shibboleths will be devised and applied (the ID-er students will be out in force in biology classes, for example). Bullying and mental torture will be stepped up.
    Yep, it’s going to be a real fun year at Lebanon High. Sorry, I’m thinking of the hash again. Giggle hash.
    Where was I? Oh yes.

    [OZ]Lebanon is in the state of OZarks, isn’t it? And I just bet that the highest point of OZarks is Mt Ararat? Complete with boat?

  20. “will strive to not let this happen again”

    I think he meant that he will use his free will to try to control that which he has no free will to do anything about.

  21. I linked these articles to my still-religious brother who is a high school teacher in Tennessee. His comment was that Lowery should be fired. Period. He said that at his school the staff are not allowed to discuss religious issues with the students but that students can initiate religious clubs or prayers on their own and that teachers must stay clear. Two football coaches who bowed their heads when some nearby students were praying were sent letters of reprimand. He said his school’s principal told them that they were “being watched” so they had to follow the rules and not mention religion. Anyway, it’s not all hopeless out there. I wonder if others know of how religion is handled at other public high schools.

  22. I do not understand. I understand that teachers should not proselytise; but I do not understand how one can forbade anyone to publicly pray. That seems just stupid.

    1. Prayer is a social activity in many contexts; when said aloud, those around are involved. Hence why public officials or whatever in the US cannot do so, as that would entangle the state.

    2. There’re at least five distinct Supreme Court decisions forbidding prayers in public schools, dating back at least half a century.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Engel_v._Vitale (1962; landmark case forbidding official prayer in public schools)

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abington_School_District_v._Schempp (1963; forbidding Bible study in public schools)

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lemon_v._Kurtzman (1971; established the three-pronged “Lemon Test” prohibiting government / religious entanglement, prohibiting advancement or inhibition of religious practice, and requiring a secular purpose)

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lee_v._Weisman (1992; prohibited clergy-led prayer at public school graduation ceremonies)

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Fe_Independent_School_Dist._v._Doe (2000; prohibited student-led prayer at public school sporting events)

      The problem isn’t with people publicly praying. The problem is with state agents publicly praying.

      Principal Lowery has every right to grab a bullhorn and stand in the middle of the town square and pray his heart out. And he’s perfectly welcome to preach for as long as he wants to in any church that’s willing to give him a pulpit. Hell, he can even become principal at a private school and pray at the students there non-stop. What he’s not allowed to do is to pray in his capacity as principal of a public school, and especially not at school functions.

      …or do you want some government official deciding which prayers students should be taught? Even if that official goes to a radically different church from yours? Because, let’s not forget: that’s exactly what public school employees are: government officials. And, as the Court decided in Santa Fe v Doe, students themselves become government officials when they’re using school facilities. Do you want some student acting in the name of the government to tell other students how to pray? Even if that student follows a religion you consider heretical?

      Those who object to Jefferson’s Wall are inevitably so short-sighted as to think that it’s their religion that will wind up in the position of power, and never consider the consequences of either some other religion winning the position of top dog, or of the government itself simply imposing through force of arms or budgets its dictates on the winner.

      If you’re sincerely religious and you have even the slightest hint of a clue, you should be the staunchest defender of the separation of church and state.



    3. A teacher praying in front of students is proselytizing.

      Especially when those students are a captured audience and their grades are on the line if they don’t show up.

      Even if it wasn’t proselytizing it creates an atmosphere of intolerance for those who believe something different. Which is exactly what we are seeing now. Christians furious over not being allowed to force their religion onto others.

      Students and parents are still allowed to pray and students can form religious groups, prayer circles and bible study groups and clubs. Teachers and principals are allowed to pray silently to themselves.

      Schools can even teach course about religion, such as comparative religion studies.

      Teachers and principals are not allowed to push religion onto students, and that includes prayers to students. That is not their job in a publicly funded school. To do otherwise would mean government endorsing (or establishing) religion which is not allowed as per the first amendment of the constitution of the United States of America.

      “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”

      If you consider, a teacher or principle saying prayers to students violates both parts of the above amendment if there are people who are not of the principals religion which was true in this particular case as witnessed by the many letters Mr. Coyne has received.

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