Prayers during graduation land Mich. colleges in hot water

A civil rights group filed a complaint against two Michigan colleges after commencement speakers prayed during their commencement speeches.

Muskegon Community College Trustee Ann Oakes included a religious invocation in her speech to the school’s graduates in May. Late last month, the Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists (MACRA) filed a complaint against the school, disputing the constitutionality of her behavior, according to MLive.

"Let us pray. Gracious Lord, we thank you, that you are with us. We thank you for your loving kindness, family, friends,” Oakes said in her commencement invocation. “We ask, O God, for the wisdom of Solomon. We ask, O 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."

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MACRA also put in a request, under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), for a copy of the commencement program and all communications regarding the invocation among the parties involved.  

MACRA co-founder Mitch Kahle writes that government-employed college faculty is prohibited from advancing a religion, promoting a certain denomination over another, or excessively mix government with religion, citing the Supreme Court’s Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 ruling, in the letter MACRA sent to MCC.

Kahle also cites a Supreme Court ruling in Lee v. Weisman, stating “prohibition of clergy-ledor government-led prayer at public school/college events, including graduation and commencement exercises, has been settled law.”

The same civil rights group went after another Michigan college as well, MLive reported.

MACRA filed a FOIA request to Jackson College for communications regarding its commencement ceremony and a copy of the commencement program. Jackson College also included a religious invocation during its commencement ceremony.

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After the singing of the national anthem, Geraldine Jacobs, an English professor at the college, asked the audience to bow their heads and proceeded to give a prayer.

The civil rights group cited the same Supreme Court rulings in the Jackson College case as it did in the MCC case.

Kahle said he is "100-percent confident" that the invocation in the commencements will end and is willing to work with attorneys to file a lawsuit if they don’t comply, according to MLive.

The MACRA co-founder told Campus Reform that the group would not like to see anybody reprimanded for their actions, but instead simply wants the schools to change their policies to follow the law. 

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