What’s going on in Lebanon, Missouri?

June 30, 2014 • 7:21 am

Last Tuesday, June 24, the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent its second letter to the Superintendent of the Lebanon (Missouri) R-III school district, asking them to respond to the FFRF’s previous letter about Principal Kevin Lowery’s prayer at the graduation ceremony at Lebanon High. (You can see Lowery’s prayer on YouTube here, which I now notice says “embedding disabled by request.” Now I wonder who made that request? No comments are allowed, either.)

The FFRF sent its first letter by snailmail and email on June 2, and I posted it.  Delivered to the Superintendent and all the members of the Lebanon school board, it was completely ignored. Although Lowery issued a notapology for his prayer, he claimed that nobody forced him to. At the request of the FFRF I won’t reproduce the second letter, as they want to give the school board time to respond. You will see it soon.

This is a no-brainer for the Lebanon school board: if they don’t issue a written statement saying that public prayer at Lebanon High School won’t take place again (apparently Lowery did this all the time), they will be sued.  I’ve already heard that the American Civil Liberties Union has some legal action in the works.  And I’m pretty sure that the requirement for such a suit—a “complainant,” a student or parent willing to join a lawsuit—will be found.  Given all this, and the cost of a losing suit for the Lebanon School District (for they will lose a lawsuit), they should accede to the FFRF’s reasonable request.

What we see here is a case of cognitive dissonance. The town of Lebanon is so soaked in Christianity, and the people so sure that they have the God-given (if not Constitutionally-given) right to pray in public, that they simply can’t look ahead and see the ruin that awaits them. That’s why they’re simply not responding. But if they think the ACLU or the FFRF will give up, they’re mistaken.

Meanwhile, at the American Family News Network’s site, One News Now (this is a Christian news organization), there’s a piece by Bob Kellogg, “You say I can’t pray? Well just watch me,” whose title tells it all.  It gives a brief precis of what happened at Lebanon High and then adds only positive comments on the school prayer:

Travis Weber, director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council, offers his assessment of the principal’s actions.

“He basically was pointing out the ridiculous state of the law in this area – really, the prohibitions on any expression of faith in the public square, including schools,” he says.

According to Weber, a letter of complaint to the superintendent about Lowery’s comments was riddled with typos and errors. “Then they can’t even accurately cite the Declaration of Independence,” he laments. “It’s kind of ironic when you have them claiming to rest upon accuracy in the law and they make an error like that.”

Christian News Network quotes several individuals who were appreciative of Lowery’s remarks, complimenting him on his boldness and his encouragement to students – through his example – to stand up for what they believe.

Riddled with typos and errors? I’m baffled. I just read the letter quickly (read for yourself here), and I can’t see anything erroneous, though combing through it carefully might reveal a few errors. But why does that matter? As for the Declaration of Independence being misquoted, the quote used comes from Lowery, not the FFRF. As for accurately quoting the law, the FFRF correctly pointed out previous cases in which courts prohibited prayer at school-sponsored public events, including graduations.  Weber is simply avoiding the issue, and makes himself look silly in the process. But of course he’s a Christian and has to dissimulate about such things.

Here’s a sample of the 39 comments; surprisingly, there are some favoring the FFRF’s stand against religious intrusion into public schools. The third one is a hoot:

Screen shot 2014-06-30 at 7.33.50 AM

Muslim indoctrination? What’s that about? I’m pretty sure that doesn’t occur in Lebanon.

And yay for this guy!

Screen shot 2014-06-30 at 7.38.09 AMOf course he was deluged with criticisms, including all those legal-savvy Lebanon residents who just know that Lowery’s act was legal.

Someone even claimed that Lowery didn’t go far enough—he was a wimp to utter a silent prayer!:

Screen shot 2014-06-30 at 7.37.04 AM

But another person stood up for the Constitution, too:

Screen shot 2014-06-30 at 7.37.20 AM

The dogpile inevitably ensued:

Screen shot 2014-06-30 at 7.37.53 AM

Rosa Parks? How dare these people equate their public-school prayers with civil rights? And Parks, committing an act of civil disobedience, took the penalty for her actions. Will the people of Lebanon take theirs?

I’ll close with a typical sentiment from the area:



This is a new bit of apologetics to me: The Argument from Supper.






50 thoughts on “What’s going on in Lebanon, Missouri?

  1. How much longer will it be before the majority of Lowery’s supporters understand that religious statements, much less favouritism, coming from a government official such as a principal, is unconstitutional, no matter how vocal, popular, or esteemed a religious belief is, and that it is not covered by freedom of speech? Are they really so ethnocentric and insecure that they can’t distinguish legal neutrality from personal oppression? Or are they exaggerating to fool others into thinking this is true when it isn’t?

    1. In all seriousness, no, they don’t understand that neutrality =/= oppression. I live in Missouri, I went to college in rural Missouri, and I promise you that these people are serial play-the-victim-carders. I can’t tell you how many people want to point out “that you can’t call it Christmas break anymore” and think that’s a terrible affront to everything, or how “you can’t pray at school anymore,” (nevermind that it’s perfectly legal for a student or group of students to say prayers, provided they’re not rudely interrupting class or something in the process) and how that’s “kicking God out of schools” and so on and so forth.

      1. I don’t know if it’ll comfort you, but that victim card is played all over the country. I’ve lived in extremely conservative areas (where it was pretty much universal that the elitists/atheists/Jews/Muslims were trying to infiltrate our society). I’ve also lived in liberal areas where the victimization becomes “a suppression of minority rights.”

        Even on a national stage, we have incidents such as Sandy Hook where people and politicians stand in front of a camera and with all sincerity state that God didn’t help the kids because we asked God to leave our schools. Right…

        I seem to have missed the history lessons growing up about how, prior to the 1960s, God constantly swooped in to intervene in malevolent acts. Of course, back then God just couldn’t give involved for fear of denying our free will. Having their cake and eating it too, it’s the way the game is played…

        1. I had relatives posting that stupid “you can’t pray in school” garbage on FB as reasons for mass shootings. It is so annoying!

  2. “This is a new bit of apologetics to me: The Argument from Supper.

    This person must have has a pschycologically damaging experience as a child.

      1. Ha ha! Probably went to his friend’s house & they were having something he didn’t like. Maybe it was a bad meatloaf.

        1. Anyone who has served aboard a US naval vessel can attest to the psychological damage done by bad meatloaf.

          1. I abhor meatloaf. People think it is odd that I do, but I find it just horrible.

        2. Years ago, I got a phone call around suppertime. A youngster, probably about 11 years old, asked me “Dad, can I go to Dave’s house for supper?”
          I was about to tell him he had a wrong number, but I thought, what the heck?
          So I said, “Sure, just be sure to be home by 9:30.”
          He said “Thanks, Dad”! Then he grew up and moved to Lebanon, Missouri, looks like.

  3. Yes, the school district will lose this case on precedent–that’s a sure thing. But if this case or one like it goes all the way to the top, in view of today’s crazy Hobby Lobby ruling, I have no confidence that our current SCOTUS will uphold that precedent, however extensive.

      1. The 5 Freaks peddle ideology as empiricism, threatening to take us back to pre-Enlightenment anti-secular societal structure, a 21st Century neo-feudal economic and social order.

        They intellectually back-pedal, as it were.

        Scalia and Alito (the relatively obscure but perhaps most reactionary of all nine) salivate at the opportunity to hear Establishment cases. Given the slightest pretense of an opening (a la Hobby Lobby) they will further eviscerate that provision, precedent be damned, Christian (Catholic) theocracy full speed ahead.

  4. The transcript of Lowery’s speech in the FFRF letter has a few errors in it. In particular they’ve added an errant ‘all’ in the quote from the Declaration and swapped inalienable for unalienable, which is unfortunate. Presumably that is what Travis Weber is referring to.

      1. Yes, it is not a substantive criticism, but it’s unfortunate to make such an error – the transcriber (even if they’re ignorant of the wording of the Declaration of Independence) just had to listen to the video! Not a hard thing to do, and *detail* is surely important in a letter that might precede legal action.

        If the transcribers aren’t professionals then I guess it’s more understandable.

        1. Who cares if a transcriber swapped the letter ‘u’ for ‘I’? If this goes to court and the video is played, swapping words that have the same meaning isn’t the issue. It was also Lowery who cited the Declaration of Independence, which isn’t even a legal document. What this document says has nothing to do with the public prayer.

        2. Who cares if a transcriber swapped the letter ‘u’ for ‘I’? If this goes to court and the video is played, swapping words that have the same meaning isn’t the issue. It was also Lowery who cited the Declaration of Independence, which isn’t even a legal document. What this document says has nothing to do with the public prayer.

  5. There are two errors I noticed in the transcript of Lowery’s comments: the author of the Star-Spangled Banner is identified as “Francis Scott P.”, and the Declaration of Independence is said to have called certain rights “inalienable” (the original spelling was “unalienable”). Those errors were made by the transcriber; in the YouTube video it’s clear that Lowery said “Key” and “unalienable”.

    Other than those two fairly trivial slips, I saw nothing wrong, and I my eye usually catches such things. Maybe there are errors I missed, but the letter is certainly not “riddled” with them.

    1. “the letter is certainly not “riddled” with them.”

      Apparently it is if you’re a Liar for Jesus.

  6. “Why is this concept so hard to grasp? The law is clear: The government is religiously neutral. It cannot prohibit religion, it cannot endorse religion, it cannot favor one form of religion over another.”

    Albibird’s comment is worth printing above again. Though I should caution, as a physicist, photons can or cannot do things, according to physical laws, but governments should or should not do things. There is no can or cannot in government. I am always reminded of naive mother’s strolling their carriages across the cross walk thinking: the law says you cannot go on a red light and I am waling my baby across the street between the white lines. Well, physics says otherwise: people can run you and your baby over, that definitely does not mean that they should.

    1. Well… to be pedantic… Governments can’t operate in violation of the laws of physics, although they might attempt to mandate such things if they are controlled by Republicans.

      1. In some sense, almost every political party everywhere is in long term violation of laws of thermodynamics due an endorsement of “growth based” economics.

  7. “As offended as I’d be for a Muslim prayer to be offered at the school…” says it all: “We’re really tolerant of expressions of religious faith, so long as they’re about OUR religion!”

    Interesting, too, is the fact that these Xtians who are so ready to profess their faith in public never seem to quote Matthew :5-6, (although they love Matthew 7:15, about the “false prophets”):

    “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.
    But you, when you pray,go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”

    And last, but not least: Jerry was entirely appropriate in ending with the threat that “Christers” often throw over their shoulder as they walk away from an argument they know they can’t win: “My God’s gonna GET you!” Of course, to desire to see someone tortured for eternity, and to go on to gloat over and exult in it, as many often do, has nothing to do with Christ’s basic teachings- it reminds me of nothing so much as the Muslims who refer to Allah as, “The All- Merciful”, then go on to decide that it is THEIR job to show no mercy to those they deem enemies.

    Some of the “conundrums” of the Heaven/Hell scenario: if you commit just one sin too many to qualify you for Heaven, do you get the same punishment as someone who sinned all their life? Does a sinner who, on his deathbed, accepts Jesus get the same reward as the faithful Christian who denied himself all kinds of pleasure during his life in order to remain “Godly”?

    I can see a person, finding himself in Hell, crying out to God: “Why am I here? I was a faithful follower all of my life!” With God replying. “You prayed in public, and wished revenge on those who did not believe in me.”

    1. “Of course, to desire to see someone tortured for eternity, and to go on to gloat over and exult in it, as many often do, has nothing to do with Christ’s basic teachings”

      The Gospels might not outright endorse this kind of metaphysical sadism, but they don’t vilify it either. They repeatedly use the sticks of hell and apocalyptic destruction to threaten unbelievers, the uninterested, and the non-conforming. That’s bound to appeal to people’s moralistic sadism, especially when the suffering is maximized to eternal damnation. And, of course, ask and ye shall receive.

  8. Given all this, and the cost of a losing suit for the Lebanon School District (for they will lose a lawsuit), they should accede to the FFRF’s reasonable request.

    My guess is that they will do nothing as long as ACLU and FFRF lets them, then they’ll delay the legal proceedings as long as possible, then they’ll finally settle by making the smallest change to future procedures that FFRF and ACLU will accept, in exchange for damages that cannot be released publicly and no public admission of wrongdoing.

    1. Playing “chicken” like that will only work up until the lawsuit gets filed, and they’re already past the point where a simple “oops, sorry” would cut the mustard. Indeed, not much short of doing exactly what the court would otherwise order them to do is going to stop the wheels of justice at this point.

      Really, all the Board is doing is making things worse. Much, much worse….


      1. I believe we’ve had this argument before; it is a pretty standard part of many many different types of settlements that the wrongdoing group gets to avoid admitting any wrongdoing. I’d be surprised if ACLU or FFRF required that as part of a settlement. So while I think the Board will lose, I also think that stalling before they settle is not going to cost them much in terms of what their final settlement/concession looks like.

  9. I wonder if that first commenter, “jules” is an example of the quality of graduates they produce at that school. His first sentence should be the holotype for a run-on sentence.

  10. I wish I could have as much certainty as Jerry that they would lose in court. Given recent Supreme Court rulings, I’m not so sure.

  11. “Yes, you certainly are a petty, arrogant man.”

    Good to see the “I know you are but what am response getting an outing from the school-yard.

    1. Ops. That should say:

      Good to see the “I know you are but what am I” response getting an outing from the school-yard.

  12. combing through it carefully might reveal a few errors. But why does that matter?

    Because religious commentators get criticized for poor spelling all the time, e.g. WEIT’s weekly crazy letters. They likely think it is a mandatory bar to pass.

  13. Bruce shows a lot of confidence for someone living in a world of a thousand religious sects. Can you imagine what Bruce’s answer will be when he comes face to face with Allah? What do you mean you haven’t even read the Koran? Woo boy, I wouldn’t want to be Bruce on that day. 😉

    But I’m sure Bruce has totally researched his religion to know that he’s got it right. He’s clearly both smarter and more pure of heart than all of those billions of Hell-bound losers who believe in something else.

    1. Don’t be silly. Bruce is using metaphor! As long as you believe in something ineffable, you’re good to go. No one really believes the Bible literally, at least not the majority of believers. Repeat after me, “2 + 2 = 5…”

  14. Shame on Bruce Rowley if for no other reason than he used the word “supper.” The word makes my blood boil for reasons that I have never been able to articulate.

  15. “And Parks, committing an act of civil disobedience, took the penalty for her actions.”

    These people don’t have the spine for that. I think we’ve got quite a bit of evidence that these people think that they have the right to do whatever they feel like in the name of Jeebus with no possible consequences.

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