Monday, October 8, 2012

Prayer removed from the University of Windsor's convocation ceremony

Portrait of Shawna Scott. (Jason Kryk/The Windsor Star).  Source.

Shawna and the Windsor/Essex County Atheist Society have successfully convinced the University of Windsor to remove the traditional Judeo-Christian prayer from future convocation ceremonies. Ceremony attendees will be invited to observe a moment of quiet reflection instead.

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.”

-- No more prayer at U of Windsor convocation ceremonies (Windsor Star)

Comments under the Star article are largely supportive of the change. Most of the commenters who are unhappy with the change base their objection in their belief that Canada was "founded as a Christian nation," and that Judeo-Christian freedom is being usurped or suppressed. Several members of the statistical majority have put their persecution complexes on proud display. I won't bother addressing them directly here -- other commenters have already done a fine job of that.

The Windsor Star is also hosting a poll to glean reader opinion about the change: Do you agree with the University of Windsor’s decision to remove a prayer from its convocation ceremony?


U Windsor Daily News has also written about the change:
The institution of a moment of reflection to replace prayer during University of Windsor Convocation ceremonies will create a more inclusive atmosphere, says Kaye Johnson, director of the Office of Human Rights, Equity and Accessibility.

“We operate to make things as inclusive as possible—widening the circle,” she says. “A moment of silent reflection will allow people to use this time as they need to, not as someone else decides.”

Here's the prayer which has now been removed:

“Eternal God, 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. That an unending search for truth and justice may be awakened in them. Inspire all researchers, philosophers, and writers to provide resources for searching minds. Enable all who discern truth to make the wholeness of human kind their life’s goal. Amen.”

This reading will precede the moment of silence and reflection, replacing the prayer from now on:

“This day marks a new beginning, particularly for those about to celebrate their graduation. It is only fitting that we come together to recognize your achievements and commemorate your successes as you continue to your lifelong quest for knowledge and excellence. I ask that you 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.”

 Congratulations Shawna, and congratulations to the Windsor/Essex County Atheist Society! You've done a wonderful job. Many thanks to the University of Windsor too, for choosing to progress toward further inclusion for all students.

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