A recent article in the Yuma Sun brought to light an issue that Arizona Western College is discussing: a prayer at graduation. A few people have also written to the Yuma Sun with unsound and unfair criticism of the AWC faculty member who publicly expressed his concern of the ceremony. One person described that faculty member as an atheist, in the derogatory – even though the faculty member said he was not Christian (which says nothing about believing or not believing in a god). Both respondents missed the central issues: 1) should a public institution have a prayer at graduation and 2) should a public institution require its employees to attend a prayer?
Prayer at a public institution. By all means have it, but also encourage all beliefs (and non-beliefs) alike. This would include other Christian sects, Judaism, Islam, Scientology, Buddhism, Wicca, Shamanism, Hinduism, Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and those that don’t believe or know in god(s) such as agnostics and atheists. I can see, however, that there may be a number of people who would be uncomfortable hearing messages from some of these other groups; so the end result may be that the graduation prayer evolve into a secular message. This way anyone listening can connect the message with their own personal beliefs.
Public institution requiring employees to attend a prayer. If the Constitution means anything anymore, this appears to be a violation of the First Amendment whose intended purpose is a separation of church and state – the freedom of the people to practice and believe in whatever religion they want or no religion for those few. Besides, what benefit does this serve at an institution of higher education where the goal is instruction and learning? Aren’t Sunday services, Sunday school, Bible studies, and home life providing this already (and more often)? Why isolate people of different beliefs rather than bringing people together? Unfortunately, this activity has the appearance of a proselytization.