Professor bans students from thanking God in graduation statements
A professor at a public university in North Carolina forbade his students from thanking God in personal statements that will be delivered during their departmental graduation ceremony on Friday.
In an email obtained by Campus Reform, Assistant Professor Eli Hvastkovs, who teaches chemistry at East Carolina University (ECU), instructed his students to prepare a “family friendly” 35 word personal statement that mentions future plans or “thanks someone.” The students, however, were explicitly forbidden from thanking God.
“I've had some submissions that needed to be edited. so [sic] here are some guidelines,” the email reads. “1. You can't thank God. I'm sorry about this – and I don't want to have to outline the reasons why.”
In an interview with Campus Reform late last week, Professor Hvastkovs defended the restrictions and confirmed he sent the email banning giving thanks to God after too many students recognized religious figures during last year’s event.
“It's not a religious ceremony,” Hvastkovs told Campus Reform, “it's purely educational.”
Hvastkovs also acknowledged the ban was not a school policy.
“It's more of a departmental thing, we have a diverse student body,” he said.
When asked if the university allows students to thank God upon graduation, ECU Executive Director of Communication Mary Schulken told Campus Reform that “the First Amendment allows them to thank God, to thank any force or any individual that they so desire.”
After Hvastkovs’s interview with Campus Reform, Provost Marilyn Sheerer released an email advising students disregard Hvastkovs’s guidelines.
Sheerer's response told students that “[r]eligious references of any type will not be restricted,” and the “[u]niversity will only limit these expressions, as permitted by applicable First Amendment law.”
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