Friday, December 17, 2010

A Reasonably Secular Graduation in Mississippi

GraduationI have written here before about the absurdity of sectarian prayers at the graduation ceremonies of the state university where I work in Mississippi. After sitting through such a ceremony in the Spring of 2009, I decided that I had finally reached my breaking point. It was time to do something. I contacted the Freedom From Religion Foundation to ask about my options. They were very helpful, but in the end, their intervention did not prove necessary. I was overjoyed to find that a handful of my fellow co-workers, including more than a few theists, who felt similarly. We decided to take action.

A few of us wrote to the president of our university and other administrators. Yes, this was a big risk. That we could have sued if we had been fired was small consolation. It was not an easy thing to do, and I'd be lying if I said I lost no sleep over it.

But it worked. At the Fall ceremony, there were no sectarian prayers. No clergy were invited to speak. Yes, the commencement speaker still mentioned Jesus for no apparent reason, reminding us that our work is not finished. But at least it was done in a fairly minor way that did not come across as university sanctioned. Overall, I have to say that it was a big improvement over anything I have seen yet at graduation. It was a reasonably secular graduation, and it happened in Mississippi.

Was it worth the risk? Time will tell, but I can say one thing: this was the first graduation ceremony I have attended in Mississippi during which I did not feel like an outsider.

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