Should the College Keep “Our Lord” Phrase in Diploma? Yep.

Trinity University in Texas is a private school that was founded by Presbyterians in 1869 but isn’t really religious anymore. It hasn’t been for over 40 years now. It has an independent board of trustees. The student body is made up of people from a variety of religious faiths and of no religious faith.

Because of that, some students are upset that their diplomas say “In the Year of Our Lord” on them and they’re fighting to have it removed:

“A diploma is a very personal item, and people want to proudly display it in their offices and homes,” Sidra Qureshi, president of Trinity Diversity Connection, told the Chronicle. “By having the phrase ‘In the Year of Our Lord,’ it is directly referencing Jesus Christ, and not everyone believes in Jesus Christ.”

Qureshi, a Muslim student at the school, is leading the campaign to remove the words. The Board of Trustees is expected to vote on the matter during a meeting next month.

David Tuttle, the Dean of Students, suggests it might be a good change to make:

It has appeared to me that the students pushing for a change have more at stake than those who wish to retain the current language. It would mean more to the students who object to the wording to have the language removed than it would mean to the students who want it to stay the same. For the former it is personal and about acceptance and inclusion. For the others it is primarily philosophical. Most wouldn’t feel that the change would lessen the diploma. Most didn’t know the language was even there in the first place. In a year, no one would miss the current phrasing. Shouldn’t we respect the wishes of those who feel hurt by this? Removing the language, ironically, would seem the Christian thing to do.

Makes some sense… so what’s the argument for keeping it?

Let’s ask a Republican:

“Any cultural reference, even if it is religious, our first instinct should not be to remove it, but to accept it and tolerate it,” said Brendan McNamara, president of the College Republicans.

McNamara pointed out that Trinity displays other signs of its Christian heritage, including a chapel on campus, a chaplain, Christmas vespers and a Bible etching on the Trinity seal.

“Once you remove that phrase, where do you draw the line?” McNamara asked.

Right… because Republicans know all about acceptance and tolerance.

But he does have a point.

If the issue is the overt religious reference in the phrasing, then why not get rid of the overt religious reference in the Bible etching on the school’s seal? Or the chapel on campus? I don’t see that as a slippery slope argument.

Kate Shellnutt of the Houston Chronicle thinks the students shouldn’t be fighting the battle in this case. After all, several other historically-religious schools still have the phrase on their diplomas — it’s more of a tradition thing than any real reference to a god.

Other institutions, both public and private, use the phrase, like:

Harvard

Yale University (in Latin)

Brown University (also in Latin)

The University of Tennessee

Ohio State

Southern Methodist University

Students at the University of Tennessee and Ohio State University would have a stronger case for getting rid of “Year of Our Lord” because they are state schools. When it’s a private school with historically-religious ties, it’s a much harder case to make that they should reinvent themselves as secular in all ways.

While I support the sentiment of what Qureshi is trying to do, you can’t go to a private school named Trinity University and expect that you won’t encounter a Christian reference or two along the way.

But I would love to see the public university students take a stand…

(Thanks to Meg for the link!)

  • http://sesoron.blogspot.com/ Sesoron

    Why not make it an option? How much money would it cost to print different diplomas with AD, CE, Jewish, Islamic, and any other calendar systems on them? They have to print your name differently, so it can’t be all that much greater.

    Or maybe just pencil in a “Y” before the “Our Lord”?

  • Ron in Houston

    The cultural, historical argument is also a bad slippery slope. Those types of arguments are what’s likely to make taking “under God” out of the pledge unlikely.

    I never realized how divorced Trinity had become from its religious background.

  • http://criticallyskeptic.blogspot.com Kevin

    Well… Anno Domini means ‘In the Year of Our Lord’ so it’s kind of appropriate. I don’t have a problem with keeping it. Of course, how many times have you looked at your diploma after you got it. Mine is… somewhere in my apartment. I’ll put it up as soon as I get a frame for it. (He says, three years after obtaining said diploma.)

  • Gibbon

    Why take it out? It’s a purely chronological statement.

    I do believe that the suggestion Sesoron has put forward is plausible, however I am not aware of Muslims having an Arabic phrase equivalent to that of “In the year of our Lord.” I suppose they could come up with something like “in the year of Mohammed’s emigration,” as his moving from Mecca to Medina is the first year counted in the Islamic calendar.

  • http://NoYourGod.blogspot.com NoYourGod

    I have to disagree with the “keep it for the cultural reference” on this one. Not all traditions should be kept. For some reason I believe “in god we trust” is fine on money, as it has been there for over a hundred years. Yet “under god” needs to be removed from the pledge as it was specifically added as a sign by folks who felt that this country was a christian one, not a heathen state like the USSR.

    I quick check of Wikipedia for “BC AD” tells us this:
    Anno Domini is sometimes referred to as the Common Era, Christian Era, or Current Era (abbreviated as C.E. or CE). CE is often preferred by those who desire a term not explicitly related to Christian conceptions of time. For example, Cunningham and Starr (1998) write that “B.C.E./C.E. …do not presuppose faith in Christ and hence are more appropriate for interfaith dialog than the conventional B.C./A.D.”

    There is a suitable and acceptable variant to AD, and to the blatantly religious phrase “in the year of our lord”. After all – what if Zenu was your lord? We’d need to add a few zeros to the year to come close to the right year there.

    Sesoron has the solution – make it up to the individual students how the year should be phrased.

  • Tony

    I’m inclined to agree. This sort of thing comes across as pure sniping. There’s a huge difference between the pledge of allegiance (which seems to a foreigner like me to be a monumentally barbaric notion anyway – “we pledge allegiance to the flag”? Wow), which everybody is coerced to recite on a daily or weekly or whatever basis, and a single phrase on a diploma from a university called “Trinity”.

    It’s disingenuous to go to a university called “Trinity” and get pissy because there are minor religious references on their certificates.

  • http://noguyinthesky.com No Guy in the Sky

    I feel it should be removed or give the students an option to have a few different beginnings. How hard would it be to have them printed out anyway. A program could just drop in In the year of the Noodley Appendage and all his Spagettiness, or Allah, Thor, Zeus.

    A person pays a huge chunk of change to go to school. If they are nuts and belieb. Let them have Jeebus of the front. For all the sane grads. Omit the goofy.

  • Leofwine

    I agree with Sesoron why not make it an option.

    I disagree with Gibbon “In the Year of Our Lord” is not a purely chronological statement.

  • Tony

    I tend to think that this situation is somewhat akin to saying “bless you” after someone sneezes. People say “bless you” because it’s the polite thing to say when somebody sneezes. Nobody says “bless you” and means “I better invoke god pronto lest your soul escape through your mouth and be taken by satan…”. Well, nobody civilized anyway.

  • DSimon

    I think they have a very good point here:

    “A diploma is a very personal item, and people want to proudly display it in their offices and homes,” Sidra Qureshi, president of Trinity Diversity Connection, told the Chronicle.

    Having religious symbols and phrases around the campus isn’t much of a big deal. But, why should a graduate be forced to promote an idea they disagree with (“Our Lord”? Not mine!) in their very own home or office?

  • http://noguyinthesky.com No Guy in the Sky

    I like to add Bless you .. from me. :) With my friends and family.

  • http://notapottedplant.blogspot.com/ Transplanted Lawyer

    When you realize that the phrase “In the year of our Lord” or “Anno Domini” actually makes reference to a miscalculation — Jesus, if he lived at all, would have been born in 4 BC — it really takes a lot of the sting out of the Christian reference.

    Besides, it’s a very powerful fact that the “Anno Domini” system of measuring historical time has been in place for centuries and is the overwhelmingly dominant system in place for Western civilization. It’s in the Constitution, after all.

    This is not the best place to concentrate our efforts. I think present efforts should be on repealing government subsidies of churches (faith-based initiatives) and governmental compulsion of overt religious observances (pledge of allegiance). Save this fight for future generations.

  • DSimon

    Or maybe just pencil in a “Y” before the “Our Lord”?

    I’d prefer if it said “In The Year Of Their Lord”. :-)

  • Sunioc

    As pointed out by others, considering that this is a common dating convention even used in our constitution, the fact that this is a private college and not a state institution (therefore making any separation of church and state issue null), and the fact that the place is bloody called TRINITY College, I really don’t care. There are much better things we can spend our time fighting.

  • Meg’s son

    Trinity officially refers to the three schools that came together to make Trinity. That’s what it said on all the recruitment fliers. We believe the diploma should reflect the student body as it is now, not 150 years ago.

  • littlejohn

    I’m with Transplanted Lawyer.
    I doubt Jesus existed at all, but it he did, we don’t know when he was born.
    What do you guys think “AD” stands for? It’s Latin, which means most religious people don’t have a clue. It’s harmless.
    Pick your fights wisely.
    This isn’t worth fighting over.

  • Killer Bee

    you can’t go to a private school named Trinity University and expect that you won’t encounter a Christian reference or two along the way.

    What else needs to be said.
    If I were Qureshi, I’d ask for a Lord-free diploma for myself alone. If they couldn’t accomodate that, I’d get over it.

  • Revyloution

    America is an interesting place. We’re overwhelmingly religious, yet we work to expunge any religious references in our lives.

    Compare the US to England, which is far more secular in their daily lives. England has frelling priests in their government who are appointed, not voted on! They have prayers in the law chambers, and religious language influences their legal language in all corners.

    That’s a real bizarre contrast between the two countries.

  • http://terahertzatheist.ca Ian

    While a private school can do whatever they please, I think that this school has more to gain from increasing populations of atheists and non-Christians by removing the phrase. As the dean says, very honestly, most people don’t see these religious references everywhere, so where’s the harm in removing it?

    I say good on the students. If Trinity wants to bill themselves as a secular, pluralistic university, than it is time to change.

  • Frank

    If we support separation of church and state simply because some dead white male slave owners thought it was a good idea, then that is a faith no better than religious faith. If, on the other hand, we support it out of some actual principle about equality or inclusiveness or something like that, why on earth wouldn’t that apply just as much at a private non-religious college as at a public college? I recognize that the state has no business interfering here, but I still think this college has a moral obligation to respect its non-christian students by removing the phrase. And I think this is a perfectly good issue for the students at this college to take up.

    And with regard to the AD thing, this is precisely the reason people use CE now instead.

  • Erp

    Strictly speaking Jesus could have been born in 1CE as otherwise he was born in a logical inconsistency (before 4BCE when Herod died (Matthew’s gospel) and about 6/7CE when the census by Quirinius took place (Luke’s gospel)). Many scholars consider both birth stories fictional even if they accept the rest of the gospels have some fact in them so any birth date that allows Jesus to be adult and with a still living mother circa 30CE is possible (e.g., aged between about 20 and 50).

    More traditional Christians assume Matthew is a better guide and that there must have been an earlier census not otherwise recorded in history (it is much easier to hypothesize that Quirinius had an earlier unrecorded stint than that Herod the Great was still alive in 6CE). They’ve also long been aware that the years are off (hence Ussher’s 4004BC creation of the world, Ussher assumed Jesus was born in 4BCE exactly 4000 years after creation).

    I note Trinity doesn’t seem to use the full form “In the Year of Our Lord, Jesus Christ”.

  • Claudia

    Well legally speaking its a private institution so it has the right to put “In the year of our lord who is Jesus Christ in Heaven born of the Virgin Mary AMEN” if it wants.

    Now, what it should do morally depends entirely on the character of the school. If it is still largely Christian and/or has a deep sense of tradition or history that makes changing symbols painful, then by all means keep the phrase. If however its become a basically secular school with progressive values then a change is appropriate.

    In short the decision should be a reflection of the identity of the school at present. However from the article itself it sounds like students shouldn’t really take umbrage either way, since it certainly sounds like a school where folks are welcome whatever their views, and that’s what really counts.

  • JB Tait

    Year of Our Lord just denotes the counting system start point for the number that follows, and doesn’t necessarily lend authority to his lordness.

    We could just as well use some nominal year zero with another name.

    In the Year of MSExcel
    1900
    1010

    In the Time of Unix
    seconds since January 1, 1970
    1270188000

    In the Year of Newton
    4 January 1643
    367

    Mayan
    August 11, 3114 BC
    -2.7

  • JB Tait

    /me now waits to see how long it takes someone to detect the typo.

  • DSimon

    If it were 1010 in the year of Microsoft Excel, then it would be 2910. Since I don’t use a jetpack to go to work, I suspect that’s an error.

    Of course, lack of jetpacks is an error in and of itself…

    I like the negative Mayan calendar number. :-)

  • Todd

    I have such a degree from Ohio State. Apparently I never looked at it that closely. This is gonna drive me crazy forever now. Thanks for pointing that out!

  • Verimius

    Just change it to “in the year x”, drop the “of our lord” part.

    Even though I’m Jewish, the C.E. common era stuff always seemed to draw unnecessary attention to itself.

    “In the year 2525…” (old song)

  • sc0tt

    Just looked at a colleague’s diploma from Brown University (lots of religious history there) – the whole thing is in Latin, so it looks really impressive and the “annoque domini nostri” bit isn’t nearly so offensive… also the date is in Roman numerals so it doesn’t stand out so much.

  • Gary

    I second the notion that this is absolutely not a fight worth waging.

    Message posted 10 Germinal CCXVIII.

  • http://frans.lowter.us Frans

    “While I support the sentiment of what Qureshi is trying to do, you can’t go to a private school named Trinity University and expect that you won’t encounter a Christian reference or two along the way.”

    I hadn’t linked the Holy Trinity and Trinity colleges and universities together until I read this. Either way, tradition to keep something the way it is is not a good argument, nor is change for the sake of change. This would be change for the sake of more equality/neutrality.

    “Year of Our Lord just denotes the counting system start point for the number that follows, and doesn’t necessarily lend authority to his lordness.”

    You don’t think the words “our” or “Lord” carry that meaning?

  • muggle

    While I support the sentiment of what Qureshi is trying to do, you can’t go to a private school named Trinity University and expect that you won’t encounter a Christian reference or two along the way.

    This is exactly what I was planning to say before I scrolled down and saw you already did. While I like CE, students going to a school named Trinity knowing its roots are Christian and which has Christian symbols throughout its grounds apparently are being rather pissy to get worked up over the common method of dating that’s centuries old now.

    Like anyone seeing it is going to think, oh, you have the diploma that says our Lord, you must be a believer, right? What does this make their diploma? A get out of hell free card?

    it certainly sounds like a school where folks are welcome whatever their views, and that’s what really counts.

    Right on, Claudia!

  • Caitlin

    @ Meg’s son: I can back up the fact that Trinity was named for the three schools that formed it.

    I am a Trinity alum and a self-described agnostic. (My “de-conversion” process began around junior year. I was part of an evangelical group during the first two years!) I did not really give the wording and design of the diploma a second thought until this issue came about a few months back. From what I remember, there was a benediction at the graduation ceremony, however. Trinity University, while a private school with Presbyterian roots, is not an overtly religious institution. The religious courses offered, for instance, are taught from a strictly scholarly viewpoint.

    However…
    From my experience the student body is primarily Christian (Catholics are probably the most prevalent subset). There were at least four (if not more) sizeable Christian groups on campus when I was there, as well as a Muslim group, Jewish group, and Hindu group (these groups were rather small). What was sorely missing from the campus at that time was a group for free-thinkers. While I personally find arguing over “the year of our Lord” on a diploma a trivial issue, I hope that the topic will spark some new conversations about religion across campus and help create a better environment for people who don’t follow the “default” religion.

  • Miko

    Students at the University of Tennessee and Ohio State University would have a stronger case for getting rid of “Year of Our Lord” because they are state schools. When it’s a private school with historically-religious ties, it’s a much harder case to make that they should reinvent themselves as secular in all ways.

    The way I see it, the university exists to serve the needs of the students, whether it’s a public or private university. It’s much harder to make the case that we, as non-students, should force the institution to make such a change. But it’s not at all hard to agree that such a change is acceptable if the students indicate– through a legitimate democratic process–that they want such a change. (Of course, since I recognize consensus democracy as the only legitimate democratic process, for me this is easier said than done; based on my experience with practical consensus democracy, the most likely compromise would be to provide students a choice along the lines that Sesoron suggests, but slightly less ecumenical for the reasons I’ll give below.)

    Sesoron: How much money would it cost to print different diplomas with AD, CE, Jewish, Islamic, and any other calendar systems on them?

    Printing isn’t the real issue. The largest costs would be in coordination with other institutions. AD/CE isn’t going to matter since it’s just a linguistic shift, but when, say, a prospective employer calls to verify the issuance of a diploma issued in year such-and-such of the Islamic calendar, it’s going to be time consuming to find the record if most of the system is in a CE-calendar. For the same reason that a science journal is unlikely to publish a paper that uses non-metric units, a university or any other institution interested in record-keeping is probably going to insist on the use of one standardized calendar, and its likely that all peer institutions in an area would want to make the same choice for the sake of coordination.

  • darren

    Oddly enough, I received my Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from Texas Lutheran University and there’s no mention of god anywhere (except for the schools seal).. my master of engineering from texas tech university has A.D. after the date, however.

  • http://cranialhyperossification.blogspot.com GDad

    …you can’t go to a private school named Trinity University and expect that you won’t encounter a Christian reference or two along the way.

    I would totally expect to see Carrie-Anne Moss there every day.

    On a slightly more serious note, I will be examining my diploma when I get home tonight. I expect a small piece of sticky-note paper will correct any issues quite nicely.

  • Diqui LaPenta

    As stated in the article, Trinity University is a *private* university with historical ties to the Episcopal church. I am an atheist who attended Trinity, and I honestly never looked at my diploma closely enough to notice the phrase “in the year of our Lord,” and it doesn’t bother me to know that it’s there now. My class ring has the TU crest (Bible and all) on it, and that also doesn’t bother me. I knew it was a historically Christian school when I applied for admission.

    I agree that it is a problem when public universities use religious language. I also refuse to stand for the pledge of allegiance during graduation at the public community college where I teach because of the “under God” reference.

  • http://getinhangon.wordpress.com/ Meg

    @Caitlin,

    You’ll be happy to know that Trinity now has SHOT – http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/group.php?v=wall&gid=96349508562 – on campus


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