Just the thought of one public mention of God in four or more years of university is enough to prompt atheists to require smelling salts and grief counselling. The cowardice of university administrators in caving in to loud, politically-correct minorities is typical. As reported by Dalson Chen of the Windsor Star, October 5, 2012:
There’s going to be a conspicuous absence at the University of Windsor‘s fall convocation ceremony next week. Namely, a prayer.When "widening the circle" places atheism on the same level as the Roman Catholicism of the University of Windsor's founders, the "circle" no longer has any shape. Typically, it never occurs to the atheists that they're being "unfair and disrespectful" in demanding that prayer be removed from the convocation ceremony. As for "re-evaluating tradition," how come it's never the atheists who feel any need to re-evaluate their traditions?
For the first time in the university’s history, the graduation event won’t include an entreaty to God — nor any other religious reference.
In place of a prayer, the ceremony will have a non-religious request for a moment of reflection.
“I ask that you take a moment to reflect on those who guided you along your path of learning,” the chancellor will read.
“To appreciate our families, our teachers, our peers, the world we live in, and all that inspires us.”
According to the university’s Office of Human Rights, Equity and Accessibility, the permanent change is meant to reflect a “more inclusive atmosphere” at the learning institution.
Kaye Johnson, the university’s director of human rights, described the new secular format as “widening the circle.”
“A moment of silent reflection will allow people to use this time as they need to, not as someone else decides,” Johnson said in a press release.
Johnson noted that many other universities have already adopted non-religious approaches to their ceremonies.
“In fact, many people are surprised to find that the convocation ceremony included a prayer,” she said in the press release.
On Friday, Johnson said she considers the change “timely.”
“If we only maintained tradition, we wouldn’t have a lot of the advances that our society has made,” she noted.
The decision pleases the Windsor-Essex County Atheist Society, a student-run club.
Shawna Scott, the atheist society’s president and founder, said she “feels reassured that the university actually does take student concerns seriously, and that they strive to respect diversity.”
A PhD student in the university’s clinical psychology program, Scott wrote letters to the human rights office about feeling “extremely excluded and uncomfortable” when she was asked to stand in prayer for her undergraduate convocation in 2010.
Scott wrote that she believes it is “totally unfair and disrespectful” to push prayer at a public university.
Asked on Friday how she feels about tradition and the University of Windsor’s roots as a Roman Catholic institution, Scott said: “You know what? Sometimes re-evaluating tradition is a thing to be done.”
Scott pointed out that the new convocation text still allows attendees to pray, if they count religion as something that inspires them. The major difference is that prayer “is no longer dictated to us.”
Asked how she feels about prayer in other facets of public life — such as city council meetings, remembrance ceremonies and community events — Scott said she disagrees with that as well.
“Religion should not be mixed into that,” Scott said.
Past University of Windsor convocation ceremonies have made direct references to “Eternal God.”
In the fall convocation of 2011, Rev. Mary Templer of the University Community Church led the audience in a prayer that described God as “the source of all goodness, discipline and knowledge.”
“We pray you to bless this assembly, gather to recognize achievement, and celebrate life. Bless this and all universities in their quest for excellence. Be with teachers and students everywhere,” Templer recited, finishing with the traditional “Amen.”
The Catholic Campus Ministry didn’t respond to a request for comment on Friday before press time.
Johnson said she didn’t personally consult with the campus ministry about the change, but there were discussions about the issue at other levels in the university administration.
As reported by Darryl Gallinger of the University of Windsor newspaper The Lance, October 9, 2012:
The prayers of atheists have been answered by the University of Windsor with the removal of Christian prayer from convocation ceremonies in favour of a personal moment of reflection.Please note the wimpy reaction of the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship spokesman, speaking with all the courage and conviction of a typical evangelical pastor. The excerpts from the prayer by "Rev." Mary Templer, quoted above, are as bland and inoffensive as you could get and still legitimately call it a prayer. If their website (in addition to the presence of a female "pastor") is any indication, University Community Church, with its roots in a liberal Presbyterian congregation, isn't likely to be full of the fire-breathing fundamentalism that atheists so love to caricature.
Holly Ward, chief communications officer for the university, confirmed the change. “It’s definitely a tradition of the University of Windsor to use a prayer, as it has been a tradition to use prayers at most universities nationwide,” she said. “Having a moment of reflection is not unusual. It’s changed because we have a changing campus. We have a lot of diversity on our campus … we want to make sure you feel included.”
“The decision was made at the president [Alan Wildeman’s] level because concerns had come to his office,” Ward added.
Shawna Scott, student and president of the Windsor-Essex County Atheist Society, was in favour of removing the prayer and feels validated by recent decision. “I’m really proud of the university for making this change,” she said.
Scott challenged the line of the convocation prayer, which refers to an “eternal God” as “the source of all goodness, discipline and knowledge,” explaining that, “The end result of us graduating is a product of our hard work, support from our family and friends and everyone working really hard to build our own success. To us, it doesn’t come from a deity … it makes it really awkward to be there and feel excluded like that.”
Scott founded the atheist group in 2010. Its 170 members fundraise for charities and provide a network of non-believers with resources and support.
“The sentiment of a prayer is a beautiful one,” said Paul Anderson, a member of the atheist society. “However, it’s impossible to write it in such a way that can accommodate all faiths, including those who don’t believe in god.”
“Or even those who believe in more than one god,” Scott added.
Scott first expressed concerns about the prayer following her undergraduate graduation in 2010 and again in 2011 in formal letters to university. She never received a reply from administration. In preparation for the fall 2012 convocation ceremony, where Scott would be recognized for obtaining her master’s degree, she wrote the university once more, suggesting a moment of personal reflection as an alternative to the traditional prayer.
A month after the letter was sent, Ward confirmed the change to The Lance.
According to the new script, Reverend Mary Templer of the University Community Church will ask the graduates to, “Take a moment to reflect on those who guided you along your path of learning, to appreciate our families, our teachers, our peers, the world in which we live and all that inspires us.”
“There’s another piece that people miss,” pointed out Kaye Johnson, director of the university’s human rights office. “There is a lot of diversity within Christianity and the type of prayer is not reflective of all of Christianity. There was discomfort that’s not only within people who have a different faith, but also of Christian faith.”
“The thing with public prayer in a context like that, it also imposes words onto people,” Johnson said, explaining that even those who wish to pray at convocation cannot choose what is being prayed to and why.
Jordan Legg of the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship is not troubled by the change. “I’m more concerned about people actually engaging with who Jesus is and loving him completely with their words and actions rather than giving him lip service at a convocation ceremony,” he said.
Legg explained that his group talks about Christianity with students on campus, and for him “teaching others to love Jesus” is more important than maintaining a campus tradition.