A funny thing happened on the way to Convocation. A friend was leaving in protest. She was visibly agitated and she knew she had found a sympathetic ear once she spotted me. It seems that an opening prayer had been inserted without warning. Too late to register my objection by walking out in solidarity, I simply chose not to attend.
Public prayer is coercive and exclusionary. There’s a captive audience compelled to sit in polite silence as a sign of complicity. There is no such thing as a nonsectarian prayer. We do not all worship the same god. Not all of us believe in any gods. Not all who believe worship the god of Abraham. Expecting people to go through the motions reflects poorly on Bryant’s commitment to character development.
Religion is on the decline at home and abroad. The most prosperous and progressive nations worldwide have been far less religious than the US for some time now. Whether or not you worry about alienating an increasingly secular student body, you might ask yourself whether it makes good business sense to trade Bryant’s international appeal for a more parochial image.
Jesus—legend has it—called public prayer hypocrisy. If character is what you do when no one is watching, public prayer serves no one. At a university that claims to value diversity, compulsory public prayer should not be on the syllabus. Taking pride in each other’s accomplishments is a universal human impulse. Surely there’s a more inclusive way to infuse our ceremonies with the solemnity that the occasion demands.
September 24, 2015
By Tony Houston