8th grader's speech banned at graduation - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

8th grader's speech banned at graduation

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FRANKLIN COUNTY -- A controversial graduation speech stirs up one Franklin County town. A southern Illinois school blocked an eighth-grade student from giving a graduation speech over concerns of religious overtones. Instead, the student gave his speech in the front yard of a home across the street.

After the graduation, the young man, along with classmates and dozens of supporters, walked across the road to private property to share what his parents say was on his heart.

Still in his cap and gown, Seth Clark shares a prayer of thanksgiving on a family friend's patio. A prayer and speech the eighth grade salutatorian could not give at his school in Akin.

"Them kids, they went through this they had their plan on that, that was the right thing to do in my opinion," says family friend Rickey Karroll.

Karroll visited Seth's parents Tuesday, when he learned the school wouldn't let Seth give his speech, due to its content. Seth's speech covered God-like forgiveness and quoted a scripture from the Bible.

Karroll says the speech should have taken place around the middle of the ceremony.

"They said we're not allowed to do that, so we'll be doing our speech across the road after the graduation is over," said Karroll. 

After graduation, Karroll says he offered his family property, so Seth could give the speech he could not give on school grounds.

"I think he has a right the right to give his opinion and he wanted to do a prayer, and last count I checked, we are still in the United States of America and it's the right to freedom of speech," said Karroll.

Karroll says growing up, the ceremony had always included a prayer. While he says he understands people have different beliefs, he doesn't believe the school should deny the right to share what's on their hearts.

He says if people don't like it, they should ignore it.

"If you have someone who has a different religion, a different belief, they have the right to. You know, we can't stop them from saying what they believe in, so why should you stop someone who believes in God?" Karroll said.

News 3 did reach out to Seth's family for comment. His parents serve as school board members so they chose not to speak on camera, but did say they are very proud of Seth and, "don't want this to overshadow the accomplishments the kids have had over the years."

News 3 also reached out to the school, but no one returned our phone calls. We were told by other parents that the speeches are checked before they are allowed to be shared.

School remains in session until May 22.

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