Friday, April 10, 2009

The University of Maryland at College Park is on a mission to demonstrate its hostility to the core values of the community.

First came an imbroglio over the screening of hard-core pornography. The university initially canceled a showing of the XXX flick “Pirates II: Stagnetti’s Revenge” after state legislators threatened to cut off school funding, but then it was shown Monday under the fatuous cover of declaring it an educational experience. Now the University Senate has voted to eliminate the invocation at the school’s May 15 commencement ceremony.

Maryland was the first Colony in the New World to establish religious toleration, so the senate’s religious intolerance is ironic. Proponents of the change say it is a matter of separation of church and state, but it would be difficult to argue that an “all-inclusive” invocation is even remotely related to an “establishment of religion.” Invocations are a traditional part of college graduation ceremonies at public and private schools across the country. Nondenominational invocations are also common in ceremonies for all three branches of government and are part of a tradition stretching back to the nation’s founding.

After being sworn in as the nation’s first president (with his hand on a Bible, by the way), George Washington stated that, “it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes.”

Another argument, put forward by senate Chairman Kenneth Holum, is that many students on the “large and diverse” Maryland campus “felt excluded and marginalized” by having the prayer. Yet the invocation would undoubtedly make greater numbers of students, parents and guests feel included and respected.

An invocation is a moment in which the community expresses its unity in the sight of the Almighty, whether one considers that a god, a spirit, or the random collisions of particles in an uncaring universe. It is an expression of collective hope and optimism at a defining moment in a young person’s life when those sentiments are particularly precious. In these troubled times, graduates no doubt would like to think that someone up there is on their side.

Only a small group of anti-social cranks in the “large and diverse” student community would feel alienated by a nondenominational prayer. We don’t want to give the University of Maryland any ideas, but we worry that the next move will be to cancel the playing of the national anthem lest it offend the international students and the fanatic America-haters.

For that matter, under the stated criteria, the university might as well cut Gov. Martin O’Malley’s commencement speech from the agenda; surely the remarks of a liberal Democrat elected official will exclude and marginalize those students who disagree with him, if there are any such rarities on this campus.

We urge University President C.D. Mote Jr. not to approve this senate resolution. It is unnecessary, divisive and diminishes what should be a time of reflection and gratitude. The tag line for this year’s graduation ceremony is, “Your time to shine - the memory is forever.” In this case, the memory will not be a good one. University of Maryland College Park graduates will launch into this tough job market armed with diplomas from a school that promotes porn and disdains faith. They won’t have a prayer.

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