Today was supposed to be a day filled with happiness and pride. Instead it is filled with sadness, anger, and dismay. I was forced to listen to a Christian pastor thank Jehovah, Jesus, and all the other code words for the Christian God at a public school graduation ceremony. While I don’t have to believe what he said, I had to endure it. It was akin to spiritual rape. I don’t say this lightly. Rape is serious. Follow the parallels. Sex is consensual and gratifying. Rape is forced and unpleasant. Prayer is personal or consensual and gratifying when done at the right time in the right place. When it’s done in inappropriate places at inappropriate times, it too is forced and non-gratifying.
The graduation ceremony I attended today at a state university had in it’s program an invocation and a benediction lead by a pastor from the community. I might add, it wasn’t the generic secular kind of invocation and benediction.
I could handle a secular invocation. Graduation is a rite of passage for the students involved as they begin the next phase of their lives. Invocation comes from the latin, invocare, which means to call on, to give, or invoke. It would be perfectly acceptable to call on these students to go forth and be good citizens, or invoke them to do great things. Instead, the moment was taken from them by thanking God for guiding them and helping them through college, etc., etc. The students accomplished this, not God. Jeepers, he’s supposedly omnipotent. He doesn’t need a college degree! Let the students take credit for their accomplishments
The benediction was even more sickening as the pastor droned on and on about Jesus and what not. To be honest, I stayed in my seat and looked around at all the other faculty wondering how they could stomach a blatant disregard for other people’s beliefs. The faculty are supposed to be thinking people, not sheep! I know some of them disagree with the graduation prayers, but don’t want to make waves or they need to protect their bid for tenure. I think it is our job to rock the boat.
Some would say, “But we’ve always had an invocation and benediction.” I would say “we also thought women shouldn’t work out of the home and that the Earth was flat.” It’s the 21st Century for Pete’s sake (that’s a biblical reference for those who care). The University’s Strategic Plan says we need to embrace our role in a global society. News Flash! Not everyone on the globe is Christian. It is true Christianity is the largest world religion, it accounts for about 33% of the world’s population. That means 67% of the world is something other than Christian. So, unless our role in the global community is Christian proselytization, we need to re-think the prayer at graduation.
Other would say, “But we’re in Northwestern Oklahoma, everyone is Christian.” I would say to that, “Bull honkey!” There are many other faiths or spiritual beliefs practiced in Northwestern Oklahoma. I know some Jewish, Hindu, atheist agnostic, and Naturists in the area. Most people are afraid to say what they truly believe for fear of ostracization and ridicule.
If neither of these arguments convince you, you are self-righteous and contemptuous. Many people point to the first amendment of the constitution and cry foul. The first amendment has the separation clause, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;… Unfortunately, this does not apply to college graduations. In 1992, the US Supreme court decided in Lee v. Weisman that school officials could not promote prayer at public secondary schools. It did not address the university level. Then in 1997, Tanford v. Brand failed to extend the earlier ruling to public post-secondary schools because coercion was the pivotal issue and it stated that college kids were mature enough to know they were not being coerced.
So, while insensitive and rude, prayer at college graduations is legal. Let it be said then, that it sucks to be a justice-minded freethinker. Don’t we want to graduate students that embrace diversity in all of it’s forms. The university should take the lead here and stand as an example.