Two more Lebanon High School students write in

June 6, 2014 • 5:11 am

I’ve heard from two more students at Lebanon High School in Missouri, one of whom (the first email below) was not afraid to be identified by name. As these emails mount up, perhaps the Lebanon School Board might want to take note of the number of students offended by overt displays of religion by school officials—but who say nothing out of fear. And surely there are others like these who are too afraid to tell anyone.

Apparently the Christian proselytizing by Principal Lowery in school has been going on for some time (I’ve bolded some bits of the emails showing that), but nobody outside of town was aware of it until the video of his graduation speech prayer was posted. There is a long-standing pattern here and it simply must stop. Again, the bolding below is mine:

My name is Alyssa Ishman and I am going to be a senior at Lebanon High School this coming school year. It does not matter to me if I am kept anonymous or not. I am an active member in the LHS Band, and a big part of being in band is playing at graduation; I have had to play at Lebanon’s graduation for 2 years now. The graduation speech Mr. Lowery gave my Sophomore year (2013) was no where as religious as this years was. I was ready for the normal “The law says I can’t pray at school functions, but if I could this is what I would say.” that he says every graduation, assembly, etc. What he said this year though appalled me. This being said his speech didn’t offend me at first. I have been raised a Catholic for a good majority of my life, and even though I don’t really believe in “God” I still go to church from time to time. It wasn’t until I started thinking about how the visitors that are of a different belief system must of felt did I really start to get upset. I have grown up in a very open-minded household; If I wanted to go to church that was okay, if I didn’t that was okay too. So, I don’t take to having religion thrown at me very well. People are arguing that if I didn’t like what was being said I should of left; For some people this would of worked, but I was getting a grade for being there. Don’t get me wrong, I love Mr. Lowery. He really cares about all of his students, not just the athletes. I’m glad someone finally called him out on this, but I really hope he doesn’t lose his job over it. I don’t think I can think of anybody who is more devoted to LHS than he is.

I hope this helped, feel free to ask any questions or anything of that sort.

I assured Ms. Ishman that nobody is going after the principal’s job (I’m certainly not). The students seem to like him a lot, and we simply want the school to conform to Constitutional law.  I hope Ms. Ishman doesn’t experience too much pushback from her classmates or neighbors. When I write the students back to confirm that they want their names used (I always do this twice), I remind them of the opprobrium and hatred faced by Jessica Ahlquist—and she was in Rhode Island!

Here’s the second (anonymous) email, whose authenticity I’ve verified. For you skeptics, these two letters, though both from people raised as Catholics, were not written by the same person using two names.

Hello, I am a [REDACTED]- year old student at LHS. My name is [REDACTED], and I give you permission to post any comments from this email, however I wish to remain anonymous. I’ve attended Lebanon my entire high school career and I love it. I really do. And I love our principle, Mr.Lowery. He’s active in our school, and despite popular belief he pays a lot of attention to our academic teams as well as our sports teams. However, when it comes to religion, he has always made his beliefs clear in a very public manner. I couldn’t begin to tell you on how many occasions he’s pulled the, “Now I can’t pray, but if I could I’d say…” and it really has bothered me. I was raised Catholic and my entire family is fairly religious. However, I’m constantly in arguments about my lack of a religious affiliation. I prefer the co-exist and day-by-day lifestyle. So when my principle is closed minded when it comes to other religions, I get frustrated. I honestly wouldn’t care if he said what he had to say in a more relaxed social setting, but he said it in front of thousands of people, as a representative of LHS. I just wish he would be more open and respectful of other people’s, especially his students and their families, beliefs or lack there of. As I mentioned before, I love having him as a principle and I love attending LHS, but if religion is mentioned it’s a battlefield, and I’m in the minority.

In a subsequent email, the student added this:

Thank you for listening to me and taking an interest in our school, most the time my friends and I cope with the close minded ness by brushing it off with, “it’s Lebanon Missouri!”  I’m glad that’s no longer an excuse. 🙂

92 thoughts on “Two more Lebanon High School students write in

  1. Hopefully Alyssa sees this piece. Respect and best wishes to you for your courage in speaking up.

  2. People are arguing that if I didn’t like what was being said I should of left; For some people this would of worked, but I was getting a grade for being there.

    If FFRF pursues this further, this point may be worth following-up on. You’ve got kids whose grades depend on them being present for sectarian religious speeches. That makes it a really, really bad violation.

    Now IMO the speech would still be unconstitutional without this tidbit. Regardless of whether it’s technically compulsory or technically voluntary, missing a high school graduation ceremony still paints one as being an outsider, not favored by the government. Also, giving such speeches at even ‘voluntary’ events is still endorsement because the principal was speaking in his capacity as a government agent. However, having said all that, the fact that some students were in fact forced to be there as part of a class assignment has got to be an especially strong point.

  3. So the principle knows it’s illegal, but does it anyway. I guess he puts the law of god above the law of the land… in direct contradiction of the Bible. 1 Peter 2: 13-17

    Of course, he’s probably never actually read the Bible. And like most of them, anything he does to further his religion is OK.

    It’s a shame that Christianity is more often represented by idiots than by reasonable people. Of course, if they were reasonable, then they would see what a joke the religion is.

    1. I’m sure you know that the go to verse for fundagelicals who don’t feel like obeying the law is Acts 5.29, “Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.”

      That accounts for their “we don’t need no stinkin’ Constitution (except for the second half of the second amendment)” attitude.

      1. I guess that just shows the Bible can say whatever people want it to say. Which makes it a waste of effort.

        Why not just say what you want to say and leave religious justification out of it?

        1. Passing the buck. Gets you off the hook for immoral behavior. At least from the point of view of the buck passer and their ilk. To the victims and others it still just looks like immoral behavior.

          1. That’s only secondary.

            The real reason is to cloak one’s self in the power of the gods.

            “Hey, I ain’t the one saying all these horrific things are really good; it’s the gods saying that, and who are you to question them?


            1. My standard response to that question or its close variants now is “a thinking human being.”

    2. Do not forget the false martyr complex in play here too. Like many Christians, I’m sure he fancies himself as a modern Daniel[1], Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego[2], or Mordecai[3], defying Darius or Nebuchadnezzar, or Ahasuerus/Haman’s orders to deny their god and worship another. Every Christian knows these staple Sunday School stories and the willingness of the protagonists to worship god even at great personal danger is held up as the essence of what it means to be a Christian. No doubt the principal remembers the story of Daniel and thinks, “That’s exactly what I am doing, praying even though the law forbids it!” It is a sadly ironic self congratulation. The obvious fact that they are not Daniel or Mordecai in the current situation but Darius or Haman, the government officials forcing unwilling others to bow to their god, completely escapes them.




  4. As a number of LHS students are now following this site, I want to tell you to “…hang in there, stand up for what YOU believe in, and stand your ground on those beliefs.” I was raised a Southern Baptist in Oklahoma and Kansas until I couldn’t stand it anymore. I took some heat for what I believed in, and you already have and will some more. Believe me, it gets easier and easier as you get older and others realize that you are capable of original thought and seeing and understanding what your own mind and intellect tell you!

    1. I hope these kids look into starting a secular student alliance. Methinks they are going to need it. One of the students mentioned a failed attempt to start a secular club in a prior year. The school has to appoint a sponsor if teachers are too afraid of retribution to volunteer.

    2. I second that. I truly respect you students for standing your ground and for speaking up on behalf of both yourselves and others.

  5. Uppity whippersnappers. In my day (early 80’s), we kept our heads down, took our lumps, and did what we were told — no whining. How dare they make such a fuss over a molehill that is their civil rights… Our generation’s apathy was legendary. LEGENDARY, I tell you.

    Damn… I was born 30 years too early.

    1. It’s funny, I actually grew up going to religious schools, where, honestly, they prayed less in my schools than they do now at a public school in Lebanon.

      1. In Australia the government is increasing the religiosity of primary schools to the point where one of my friends intends to send her kids to a private religious school to avoid the preaching of school chaplains! Not only are they under-trained but they are all associated with a particularly noxious group called Access Ministries which has the stated aim of converting children to their extremely fundamentalist form of Christianity. The main religious schools are of stated mainstream churches with far less primitive beliefs and no mandate to go forth and make soldiers for Jesus.

  6. I am a little bit worried about some of these students revealing their names. Yes they are assuring it’s ok, but they are also kids and may not fully understand the possible ramifications. With the help of this site, and other places (whichever perspective they’re taking) like the Blaze, this story risks blowing up into something quite large. And Dr. Coyne is probably very familiar with trolls and hate mails etc. Anonymous, online invective could be hard to take for a teenager.

    1. Sorry, but this is close to concern trolling. I have had discussions with every student who wanted their name revealed, pointing out the possible bad ramifications, mentioning the case of Jessica Ahlquist, and so on. Some of these students have discussed the issues with their parents. When they assure me, after I’ve asked them twice, that they do understand what they are doing, then I take them at their word.

      I’ve done all I can to point out the ramifications, so let’s not have any more kvetching about it, okay?

      1. Daoud is not in any sense a troll, he just expressed an honest concern. Maybe he’s mistaken to be concerned, but that’s another issue. The pattern of his commentary here shows he’s not just trying to stir up trouble.

        1. Right, and I don’t think he’s mistaken in his concern. Teenagers are legendary for not being able to fully understand the consequences of their actions in spite of those consequences being pointed out to them by an adult they trust and respect (as they obviously feel towards Jerry). Even as an adult it’s hard to imagine what one is getting into until one is in the middle of it.

          That said, and I say this as a 45 year old man, knowing her story, I would never put myself in a position similar to what Jessica Ahlquist was/is(?) in.

    2. I would not be too concerned. I do not think any secular kid at that school is in any danger. The people of Lebanon are very unlikely to be violent. The majority of citizens of Lebanon may be insecure about losing what they want to be true and they just hate having to be told that nature is not aligned with their epistemology.

      1. There is reason for concern. We shouldn’t minimize this. But courageous people, like these students, are able to deal with the challenges. Professor CC has been doing, I think, an excellent job of informing them of what they are up against. I’m encouraged to learn that they are up to the challenge. Living in the closet has costs of it’s own.

  7. I am glad to see students are both speaking out against the proselytyzing while also making clear that they otherwise like and respect their principal and their school. I had felt it likely that his detractors would regard Mr. Lowerey as dedicated and passionate about his school and its students, albeit also misguided about how far he can carry his religion.
    I hope he realizes, with time, that this is for the best. He can wear his religious hat all he wants while off the job. He can roll in religion. He can bathe in religion. He can proselytyze his religion to all he sees while off the job. But when he stands as a principal of his school, he must wear the secular hat and be the principal for all his students.

    1. Well put. I’m also hopeful that this newsworthy situation can help serve as a wake-up example to others who are currently infusing their personal religious beliefs into governments and public schools.

      The goal is to educate ALL educators on this point (without demonizing them any more than they demonize the nonreligious or those of different faiths). Too bad we can’t send this message around the world… or can we?

      1. The challenge is that all these religious communities live in their own bubbles and don’t generally get the message until slapped upside the head with a legal threat or worse (actual expensive lawsuit).

    2. What should not be overlooked, however, is that regardless of how dedicated and passionate to his school and his students Lowery may genuinely be, his strong commitment to his religion results in abuse of young students. And, as one student’s mother put it, contamination of the education the school provides.

      Many people let this kind of thing pass due to the unwarranted respect religion traditionally has been given. That the problems he has created by his misdeeds are inspired by his religious beliefs should not be cause for cutting him any slack. What he has done, and the environment he has created at his school, are not bad things unwittingly done by a nice person. They are bad things done by a person behaving badly in circumstances where he can fairly be expected to know better.

  8. “…I love Mr. Lowery. He really cares about all of his students…”

    Just not enough to respect their beliefs? It’s not a hard law not to break if you respect the people you’re addressing.

    1. Exactly.
      He cares when it is convenient. What will he do when FFRF backs up the students and he gets into trouble for pushing his god on powerless children ?

  9. Ironically, I suspect Principal Lowery has done more in the past couple of weeks to advance the cause of atheists in Lebanon than has been done by all others in generations.

    Congratulations to those courageous young people (and parents) who have responded to this situation. Atheists are gradually coming out of the closet. A good thing is going on.

    1. Yes this is interesting. I’m sure if you were an outside observer at that school graduation, you might have come away thinking “yep, religious small town” and assume that, though being unconstitutional, no one present (aside from you the observer) had any issues with it. But it’s a nice reinforcement that no human population is a monolithic block.

      In the most generous, optimistic view, the principal may have thought that it was “ok” (still not legal!) because hey, everyone in his small God-fearing town is a God-fearing Christian. And maybe this will open his eyes a bit. Note that is being far more charitable and optimistic than the situation likely deserves!

  10. Let’s see what we have here:
    1)A principal pushing religion down everybody’s throat in a public school
    2)Students afraid to be ostracized, bullied or losing grades if they don’t comport with the “official” religion
    3)Teachers being afraid of losing their jobs if they don’t go along
    4)Religious clubs encouraged and secular ones blocked
    5)The “leader” is still praised as “dedicated” and a “good principal”, even by people badly affected by his ruling
    Hmm, where have I seen this before?
    Something fishy is going on there.

      1. Just that this is a common trouble when you have a powerful authority? Whether it’s a small town principal or a cult leader or tyrant of a huge nation (it’s just a matter of scale).

      2. Yes, something like that, but in a lower degree of intensity. Of course nobody is compelled by force to attend that school. But, this could be a case of a charismatic leader winning sympathies, doing a great job, but pushing his personal ideology in a subtle way. He allows the social machine of peer pressure run wild. He allows ideological minorities feel threatened and doesn’t do anything to reassure their protection. Quite the opposite, with his speeches he reassures the majority that they are in the right side, and encourages a psychological bulling.
        As for the teachers, it’s quite possible that he would never fire anyone for not comporting with his religious views, but he let the fear grow and run.
        I think he is lovely but plays a subtle game of love with fear (or fear with love)that works well for his purpose.

      1. NOT AT ALL!
        I don’t know why my post could be construed like that.
        But let me tell you, English is not my first language (heck! it’s not even my second one) and I appreciate your feedback. 🙂

        1. Oh, OK. You are doing a hell-of-a-lot better than I am regarding languages (Spanish is my second language, but I am about as proficient as a 4-year-old). To my USA ears it sounded like you were alluding to a previous incident involving a principal, students… and something about the story appeared to be “fishy” (usually meaning there is something wrong with the truth of the entire story). No worries.

          I did check for school-related hoaxes involving officials and atheism, just for grins — and the few I found went the other way. (usually a hoax along the lines that a school official trampled on a student’s rights of expression to say “Merry Christrmas” or read a bible – and such hoaxes seem to be gobbled up and repeated by the religious on a regular basis).

          1. Thank you Stephen. Now I get where I was being misinterpreted: I used the “fishy” word trying to apply it to the school not to the story. I should have said “something rotten in that school”.
            In no way I doubt the veracity of the story, that would be ridiculous. But this is not my first nor my last blunder trying to learn a language.

    1. I think you’re seeing conspiracy issues where there are none. Sounds like (the students think) Lowery is good at all the other parts of his job, even if he’s not so good on the religious endorsement issue. It happens. Humans are not separated into monsters and saints; most of us are good at lots of things but have a few blind spots. There’s IMO no reason to think the kids are brainwashed here, I think it’s pretty likely the principal is good at resolving nonreligious issues and so on.

      1. Eric – I agree. Teenagers have pretty good BS detectors. I’m seeing nice guy with a massive blind spot.

        1. Seconded. As hard as it may be for some of us to understand this man is a good guy, just mistaken.
          His god is imaginary but the bliss that he feels is real and he genuinely and generously wants to share that.

        2. Much like Hedin, who was considered a super nice guy even by the atheists who complained about his prosletyzing in class

      2. Conspiracy theories?
        Wow! If that is what you take form my post, I have a lot to improve in my English composition. See above.

        1. Hi Carlos:

          For some reason, either my memory or the google is letting me down, so I can’t find the exact quote, but I remember reading something like “I never understood why someone would make fun of a foreigner speaking broken English, when that foreigner may speak ten other languages.”

          You’re doing great; keep at it! I’m quadrilingual, and I well remember learning a lot from being misunderstood when I botched something in a new language.

        2. Hi Carlos

          In context it makes absolute sense, to me anyway, although “fishy” does tend to imply a deliberate cover-up as opposed to ingrained bad behaviour!

          Your English is great, really. I have some bad French and that’s about it, but I do have plenty of friends for whom English is a second language so have spent a lot of time discussing English subtleties with them. Colloquialisms are a nightmare. 🙂

          You certainly write better than the majority of native speakers as has been mentioned above.

  11. Any concerns about the school’s leadership/scholarship when 3rd and 4th year students don’t know the difference between principle and principal?
    Should have vs. should of?
    But they do know their bible quotes!

    1. Once again, I find it incredibly rude to point out any flaws in the prose of these emails. You do realize that the people who wrote these are reading the comments, don’t you? Criticize the principal, if you must, but don’t go after the writing of these courageous students. Any more comments to this effect will be trashed.

    2. This is not the time to police grammar. These students have written in about an important issue; their letters are mature, compelling, and informative.

      1. Also the students did not drop education credentials to impress like FQM Tom C, MBA Harvard did yesterday.

      1. I still make those mistakes. I blame growing lesions on my brain. Or is that legions. 😛

        1. I make them because its a personal communication and perfect grammar is not a high priority. Understandable thought, concisely conveyed is the goal. Good gracious. When I write an essay I want published as an op-ed in the NYT, I’ll worry about grammar. Writing an email to Jerry thanking him for his help with my situation? Not so much.

      2. I still remember my Dad telling me “the princiPAL” is your PAL”. And that was 50 or so years ago.

    3. Of course, if she’d written “should have” instead of “should of”, people would have claimed the letters to be fake or written by parents because the grammar is too good. If you are a victium of abuse, you really can’t win in the eye of some people…

    4. It’s rather presumptuous to assume the students don’t know the difference. Isn’t it at least equally likely that they simply made a mistake? I make grammatical and spelling errors quite frequently in forums such as these where time is not taken to do an extensive review and edit. Other posters also make these errors; Jerry occasionally does as well. It would be ridiculous to say that these errors are because we’re all ignorant about grammar.

      1. Agreed. Although actually “humans of all ages” all over the country make the same mistake, along with dozens of other common grammar mistakes, spelling mistakes and typos. Great galloping whoopy cushions, it simply doesn’t matter here.

        1. I’ll start questioning student’s grammar once I see people–educated, professional–stop getting confused by lose and loose! 🙂

          1. I am *so* with you on this. I’m pretty blasé about a lot, but people using “loose” as the opposite of win just drives me batty.

            1. That one drives me crazy too and I think I never screw it up because I had to translate “loose the peace” ie: break the peace from Greek a lot and I’d always translate literally then interpretively. My Greek teacher lectured us all about loose and lose. It is the same with led or lead – from translating Latin. I guess Romans led a lot and Greeks mad war a lot or had war made in them. 🙂

  12. Mr Lowery

    If you look in here, stop and read the letters written by your students. They seem to like you. But like all teenagers, they can see right through you. They know that you know you are breaking the law. The verbal gymnastics don’t make it right. They know it and you know it.

    My young son attended a social skills class at his school. One of the things they taught was “funny once”. An inappropriate comment may get a laugh the first time. It may be funny once. But with repetition, an inappropriate comment quickly ceases to be clever.

    Based on the letters posted here, your students don’t find “if I were going to pray, this is what I would say” to be clever. They find it unpleasant, inappropriate and insulting. And you haven’t fooled them. They also know it’s illegal.

    What example do you choose to send to your students? Will you visibly and whole-heartedly obey the law and the Constitution of the United States? Are you going to ensure that every one of your students is welcome and included regardless of religious belief? Or will you show them that you flaunt the law, and care only for students who share your religion?

    Are you actually the good person they believe you to be?

    1. Lowery knows what he’s doing is illegal. He was just not getting called on it so he kept doing it. Now that he has, he’s going to “strive not too let it happen again”.

  13. One thing I haven’t heard is what condition instruction in Biology is in, in Lebanon. Is Evolution relegated to the lecture that gets omitted for lack of time? Is Biology turned into Philosophy for a day (for expounding on purported controversy)? Is it in Don’t Ask Don’t Tell mode? Is there even a section in the Biology textbook about it?

    Maybe some of the students could comment, either here or to the proprietor of the site.

  14. “I assured Ms. Ishman that nobody is going after the principal’s job (I’m certainly not).”

    This Principal certainly isn’t misbehaving due to ignorance of the law. He has said multiple times that what he is doing is illegal, yet he persists. He obviously does not respect the law as it applies in this situation, so just how many times can he flout the law before the school administration recognizes that he is not willing to do his job in a lawful manner?

  15. Using the the excuse that “it’s Lebanon, Missouri” is simply an excuse as the anonymous student rightly points out.
    And accepting such behavior without question will usually only make the situation worse.
    Change only happens when people voice their concerns and question the behavior of others.
    It seems such a small thing for the principal to simply stop referring to religion in his speaches.He knows he is doing it and yet seems unable to stop. So why can’t he do it?

  16. I just celebrated my 50th high school graduation with a reunion of old (and I mean old) classmates. I forgot to tell them I was also a grammar apologist who thought every high school graduate should speak and write correctly. Who would have known?!?!

  17. On the Lebanon Underground Breaking News, facebook page, they have been deleting and banning people who speak out against Mr. Lowery.
    You all just don’t know the people in this small town. This is the norm for them. Go to the Lebanon Daily Record’s website and go to their public forum, you will see what I’m talking about. I wish some of you would sign up and start posting over there.
    I really hope that they do get sued. BTW, the columnist Katie Hilton, never knows what she is talking about go back and look at her ‘stories’.

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