We pointed out last month that the graduation ceremony at Muskegon Community College had included a religious invocation that was explicitly Christian. It was delivered this past May by longtime MCC Trustee Ann Oakes, who made frequent reference to “God,” the “Lord,” and “Jesus” in her prayer.
Let us pray. Gracious Lord we thank you, that you are with us. We thank you for your loving kindness, family, friends. We thank you for all those that have helped us come to this present time. We thank you for all things. For we know that all things work together for good. To them that love the Lord, those who are the called, according to His purpose, for this purpose tonight, we say thank you. Thank you for this very moment. Thank you God, for the wonderful, the joys. We thank you Oh God, for the tears that may be shed, but tears of joy. God we say [thank] you for this moment. God, we don’t know what the future holds, but we know you hold our future, so we ask for a special blessing upon the class of 2018. Open special doors for them. Do miraculous things for them. God bless them in a special way as they continue their educational journey. We ask Oh God, for the wisdom of Solomon. We ask Oh God, for the inner strength of Sampson. But above all we ask for a heart of love like you. In Jesus Name, we pray. Amen.
All of that belonged in a church service, not a public school with a captive audience being told to pray along with the speaker. That’s the argument that Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists leader Mitch Kahle made in a letter to the school. He was speaking on behalf of someone at MCC who had contacted him, and he warned the school that allowing these invocations to continue could lead to a lawsuit down the road.
MCC now says it will change its graduation ceremony to accommodate the request. There will still be an invocation, but only “to the extent permitted by separation of church and state law.” It’s an invocation in name only. That means no God. No Jesus. No religion of any kind. Just a few generic words to celebrate the occasion.
Going forward, invocations at MCC graduation must be brief, non-sectarian, celebratory of the event and must not entangle the college with religion, said board President Donald Crandall.
“A faculty member or board member (giving the invocation) might be too much entanglement,” he said.
It’s the right move for everybody at the school. Kahle told me he was pleased with the change, though he wished they would’ve gone even farther:
The complainant (and MACRA) would have preferred for the college to abandon the commencement invocation altogether, but if non-sectarian limits are respected, it may be the best result we can expect.
It appears that once sectarian language is removed from invocations, many supporters of the practice begin to lose interest. Plain-vanilla religion is not as satisfying for them.
Plain vanilla invocations are all they’re going to get, though, thanks to atheists who understood the law better than the administrators at the school.
(Portions of this article were published earlier)