Lebanon High School principal apologizes—for the second time

June 6, 2014 • 9:48 am

A Lebanon, Missouri resident called my attention to a post on Principal Kevin G. Lowery’s Twitter page, which indicated that he’s apologized yet again for having prayed at the Lebanon High School graduation.

Screen shot 2014-06-06 at 7.21.20 AM

The link goes to a Dropbox page that contains the following statement:

To those who are willing to listen, I offer the following:

First, it was never my intention to personally offend, alienate, or target any student or audience member at our recent graduation. Rather, I wanted my remarks to be heartfelt, full of compassion, and deeply rooted in the history, culture, and tradition of America and Lebanon, Missouri. In fact, I wanted my comments to reflect the values, hopes, and dreams of this great community. So, why then did I apologize? Not because of pressure from my superintendent or board of education and not because of pressure from social media bloggers. I apologized because it was simply the right thing to do. This gesture comes from a lesson my parents taught me early in life. For the last 27 years, I have endeavored to create learning environments where all students feel welcomed, accepted, and fully embraced for their individuality. Have I been successful with every student over the course of my career? Unfortunately, the answer is no. However, I have tried to learn from my mistakes in such a way that other students may benefit from my lessons learned. Therefore, to whomever I may have offended on May 23, I am hopeful that you will accept my sincere apology.

Second, I want to thank Dr. Widhalm and the entire school board for their continued and unwavering support of my leadership at Lebanon High School. With their unrelenting support, our school continues to be recognized for excellence in many areas at the local, state, and national levels.

Third, I want to thank the Lebanon community for also supporting my leadership at Lebanon High School. This community has embraced me with unparalleled love, generosity, and genuine appreciation. For that, I am forever grateful.

Fourth, I want to thank the Lebanon High School faculty and staff for helping me put into place a mission and vision that is truly student-centered. I have never experienced a faculty and staff that work so hard and with so much passion in order to bring out the best in kids each and every day.

Finally, to the public at large, I have received literally hundreds of letters, cards, emails, text messages, telephone calls, Tweets, and Facebook postings from people around the country. Please know that I truly appreciate your passionate support and your strong advocacy.

It is my hope that our students will have a safe, enjoyable, and relaxing summer and we can look forward to the coming school year with a strong unity of purpose and sense of pride. Go Yellowjackets!

Kevin Lowery
LHS Principal

The curious thing about this statement, which is not an official response to the letter of complaint from the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), is that Lowery refers to “mistakes,” adding that this statement was “the right thing to do,” but neither mentions his big mistake—praying at graduation—nor promises that he won’t pray in school again. As we know now, Lowery prayed constantly before school events, saying stuff like “The law says I can’t pray at school functions, but if I could this is what I would say,” and then proceeding to pray. That makes everything worse, for it shows that Lowery knew his act was illegal, but went ahead with it anyway. And I think his omitting a description of the “mistake” was deliberate, for many citizens of Lebanon are furious that Lowery had to apologize, and some have called for the resignation of the School Board because Lowery was supposedly “forced” to apologize. (More on that later.)

While I try to be charitable about these apologies, I don’t see a lot of contrition here, but rather lot of self-praise and fulsome, community-courting praise for his school.  I don’t see that Lowery really grasps how much he offended some of his students, or that he did that by consciously and continuously breaking the law. Note, too, that he again apologizes “to whomever I may have offended.” May? That kind of qualifier always turns an apology into a notapology.

By all accounts Lowery is much beloved by his students and the community. And for that I give him credit. But he must learn that the oppressive atmosphere partially caused by his religiosity and enabled by his behavior has, as evidenced by the emails I’ve gotten and a few comments on this website, driven some of Lebanon’s brightest people away from his town.

This certainly doesn’t answer the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s complaint, which was addressed to the Superintendent of Schools and the school board members, not Lowery. But Lowery’s allusion to his continuing support by the school superintendent and school board doesn’t bode well for their legal troubles. If this is as far as they go in answering the FFRF’s complaint, I suspect they’ll face more trouble in the future.

45 thoughts on “Lebanon High School principal apologizes—for the second time

  1. The notpology leaves open the possibility that the mistake he made was praying the wrong prayer. He doesn’t seem to understand the issue.

  2. I tend not to consider it an apology unless it contains the words “I’m sorry” and appears to be sincere. By this standard he hasn’t apologized even once yet.

  3. What about the “letters, cards, emails, text messages, telephone calls, Tweets, and Facebook postings from people around the country” that didn’t support him? Does he appreciate those as well? This is self-serving BS. It’s almost like he’s apologizing for apologizing. As Jerry pointed out, there’s no mention made of what he apologized for nor why what he did was wrong. He and his supporters just don’t get it–they have no comprehension that not everyone believes in the same god they do or even in gods at all. Small town small mindedness. I’m so glad to be away from there.

  4. “Finally, to the public at large, I have received literally hundreds of letters, cards, emails, text messages,telephone calls, Tweets, and Facebook postings from people around the country. Please know that I truly appreciate your passionate support and your strong advocacy.”

    He still believes what he did was right. (Look at all these people who agree with me). He is a messenger for Jesus. He believes he is being persecuted by us “angry atheists”. I would not expect a real apology from this guy. I’m afraid this is the best we’re going to get.

    Hopefully, he will curb it in the future. Now that he knows all eyes are on him.

    1. I agree with you.

      This kind of non-apology is used to try to smooth over the waves, pour oil upon the water, as it were. I can see that ‘true believers’ feel they have righteousness on their side and any suffering they endure is for a greater good. Never mind that what they believe in is myth and their whole lives are built around a delusion. It’s really hard, even next to impossible, to argue/litigate any of them out of that mind set. There’s the rub. They just end up feeling persecuted. It’s very sad that reasoning, critical thinking and search for truth end up being portrayed as undesirables.

      1. Fortunately, the goal isn’t to convince Principal Lowery or the Board of the error of their ways. The goal is to reform public education in Lebanon such that it complies with Constitutional mandates. And that’s about to happen, with or without Lowery and the Board.

        b&

  5. “First, it was never my intention to personally offend, alienate, or target any student or audience member at our recent graduation.”

    The hell it wasn’t…

    1. Indeed.

      People who pull shit like this often think they can wriggle out of exclusion accusations because they didn’t explicitly say “those who aren’t (the right brand of) Christian do not belong!”

      Bzzzt! Try again! If you intended to present your brand of Christianty as the best and most proper way to be, then you intended to target and alienate those who aren’t your brand of Christianity.

  6. He drops the ball in the first graph, “deeply rooted in the history, culture, and tradition of America and Lebanon, Missouri.” This is an attempt to juke around the bill of rights and his statement is inaccurate. God has NEVER been allowed in public schools, at least not since the Constitution was ratified in 1787. The separation of church and state is not a new phenomenon. It was not brought to you by Dawkins or Harris or Hitch. If you have a problem with it, then your beef is with the men who ratified the Constitution and they’ve been dead for 200 years. The religious, christians usually but not exclusively, try to make the case that violating students first amendment rights in this manner is okay because of the religious traditions of their community. That people of faith have been wantonly violating the bill of rights in this manner for decades is immaterial, it is still a first amendment violation. HI, I’M THE ESTABLISHMENT CLASUE, HAVE WE MET?

    1. God has NEVER been allowed in public schools, at least not since the Constitution was ratified in 1787.

      Well that’s not really true. The 1st Amendment was quite deliberately a restriction on *Congress*, and at that time there were ongoing *state* religions. It was only with the 14th Amendment that restrictions on Congress were extended to all levels of government.

      The history is actually of a gradual extension of the idea of church/state separation, which wasn’t really established as a legal doctrine until the 1947 Everson case, constructed out of the 1st and 14th Amendments.

      1. “…wasn’t really established as a legal doctrine until the 1947 Everson case…”

        Which unfortunately could be used to great advantage by anti-separatists in their arguments.

  7. I don’t see a lot of contrition here, but rather lot of self-praise and fulsome, community-courting praise for his school. I don’t see that Lowery really grasps how much he offended some of his students

    I think he understands, I just don’t think he cares much whether he offends secularists, atheists, muslims etc… in his community. Without a statement to the effect that he will stop doing it, the totality of the letter reads to me: “I’m sorry in an abstract sense, but I’m going to keep praying because I think its worth your pain.’

    If this is as far as they go in answering the FFRF’s complaint, I suspect they’ll face more trouble in the future.

    I’m not so sure. If they were to get a correspondence from the administration saying it won’t happen again, but no additional public statement from Lowery, I bet they’d settle for it (but with a response “we’ll be watching for a repeat.”)

    1. If they were to get a correspondence from the administration saying it won’t happen again, but no additional public statement from Lowery, I bet they’d settle for it (but with a response “we’ll be watching for a repeat.”)

      After this letter? I don’t see that happening.

      Lowery not only again failed to admit wrongdoing other than vaguely “give offense,” he made clear that the Board has his back.

      That is, according to Lowery, the Board is satisfied that all he needs to do try harder to avoid offending anybody.

      The problem isn’t giving offense. The problem is blatant disregard for fundamental Constitutional prohibitions, and for creating an intimidatingly oppressive theocratic environment at a public school.

      At this point, if the Board is going to have any hope of avoiding legal action, they’re going to have to pretty much do what one would expect a court to order them to do, and that only begins with drafting policies against religious coercion in the school. It’s likely going to mean mandatory education for administration and faculty on First Amendment restrictions and outside monitoring for violations.

      If it was just a one-off event, a notpology letter might maybe cut it. But this is so far beyond that it’s scary — we’ve got students and alumni coming out of the woodwork to (often anonymously) describe the intimidation and indoctrination Lowery has systematically engaged in for his entire career.

      Frankly, Lowery put his balls in a vice and dared somebody to grab the lever, and the FFRF was the one to step up and accept his challenge. Now, Lowery is telling the FFRF that they wouldn’t dare actually tightening the screw. The next question is how hard the FFRF has to squeeze before Lowery learns what he himself is making into an incredibly painful lesson.

      Cheers,

      b&

  8. In fact, I wanted
    my comments to reflect the values, hopes, and dreams of this great community.

    Your mistake, Mr. Lowery, is in assuming that the “values, hopes, and dreams” of your community include a specific religious viewpoint. Christianity is not a requirement for values.

    1. Christianity is not a requirement for values.

      And, given the experiences of the blacks in this country and South Africa, or the Jews throughout the last 2,000 years, one might almost claim that it actually inhibits the development of positive values.

  9. The majority of this apology (5 paragraphs) talks about how popular he is and his mention of the emails, tweets etc. of support imply, in a passive-aggressive way, that he is supported by the majority with the implication that he is right (because majority rules), which of course is false (majority opinion is not always the right opinion).

  10. “to whomever I may have offended”

    Like there’s any doubt that there are people who you did offend?

    A weasel word following an unnecessarily pompous one.

    What would Pinker have him say? “to those I offended”?

    /@

    1. I feel a costly lesson for the community of Lebanon coming on. This is a little like watching a car crash in slow motion.

      1. Yeah, it’s like watching those Russian Dashcams on YouTube. This is the slow falling off of wheels from truck.

  11. “oops! I accidentally prayed at a public venue dozens of times. Silly me.”

    “I have endeavored to create learning environments where all students feel welcomed, accepted, and fully embraced for their individuality. Have I been successful with every student over the course of my career?”

    How does sectarian prayer make all students feel welcomed and accepted? And I note that he doesn’t say that he excluded people and made some feel unwelcomed on the particular occasion in question.

    He also doesn’t admit to passing along David Bartonisms.

  12. This feels like a ‘non apology’ apology – I’m sorry you got offended – rather than ‘I offended you’, and others have said, no indication of not doing it again.

    This is so beloved of politicians – notably Tony Blair (forgive UK reference) over Iraq war, and the deceptions that led up to it.

  13. > In fact, I wanted my comments to reflect the values, hopes, and dreams of this great community.

    And therein lies the problem. Lowery wasn’t speaking just as a community leader, but as a representative of the United States government. His speech was constrained by the Constitution, regardless of what the values of the community might have been. He could no more espouse a specific religion based on community values than he could espouse white supremacy in a graduation speech to a community of Klansmen.

    > I apologized because it was simply the right thing to do.

    Good so far.

    > For the last 27 years, I have endeavored to create learning environments where all students feel welcomed, accepted, and fully embraced for their individuality.

    Aaaand … he blew it. He has done no such thing. He has repeatedly promoted a specific religion while acting in his capacity as a government representative. He has even done so after acknowledging it wasn’t legal. For 27 years he has been specifically and willfully making it clear to students of different religions that they are not welcomed or accepted, or in fact even part of the community that he represents, which in his case is the entire country.

    > Therefore, to whomever I may have offended on May 23, I am hopeful that you will accept my sincere apology.

    Again, it’s not so much about who in the community might have been offended as it is about the fact that he undermined the Constitution. If our government is to represent people of all religious positions equally, then it can’t proselytize for particular faiths. Ever. Not just unless no one happens to say they mind.

    1. He doesn’t represent the federal government directly, but it doesn’t matter. Local and state governments can’t act in ways that undermine rights guaranteed by Federal law (which includes the Constitution AND case law)

  14. 1) Whether you offend everyone or no one, it’s still illegal.

    2) Even if people support you, it’s still illegal.

    3) Even if people love you, it’s still illegal.

    Why is this hard?

    1. Good question. One might infer that it isn’t enough for them just to believe and have faith; they have to bolster that faith by proselytizing. So they sneak it in every chance they get. They are either too sure they are right, or they aren’t sure enough, I’m not sure which.

  15. My several years of experience “debating” theists in the jungle of facebook have taught me that there is seldom any satisfaction to be gained by calling them out. Nothing short of a “deconversion” experience will make them change their minds, no matter how much lip service they give about being considerate of others’ views. They think they’re right, and they will sneak that in every chance they get because they know they will always have a following.

    All the attention the principal is receiving is surely gratifying to him, but it won’t help him understand that he can’t just get up and gas about religion, Jesus, etc., because it crosses the line of separation. He can’t get out of it by his not-so-clever “they tell me I can’t say this, but if I could this is what I would say”.

    He is confused by the sense that because the majority of people in his town are on his side, he is justified in making such remarks. Again he misses the point. He doesn’t understand why he can’t do it.

    I don’t think atheists and agnostics should use that forum to advocate their position (even though atheism and agnosticism aren’t religions), for the same reason. However, everyone is certainly entitled to advocate reason and critical thinking.

    1. The point is, not his belief, but his behaviour. The law is inconvenient for many – I wish I could drive faster on the highways, however I can’t, and accept this. He hasn’t accepted the essence of secularity and can’t articulate it.

  16. I’m pretty sure I can understand Lowry’s thought processes on this. He represents the government, true, but he represents God first, and God’s law supersedes man’s law. There is a war ongoing, with the precious souls of his students at stake. It’s too bad that angry atheists are offended with his witnessing, but, well, too bad. He has taken a stand for righteousness, and can do no other.

    In addition to legal remedies, it will take some creative thinking to combat a mindset like this.

Leave a Reply