Why Was There a Graduation Prayer at the University of Georgia in Athens?

For months now, the UGAtheists at the University of Georgia in Athens have been trying to stop sectarian prayers from being recited during a graduation ceremony this past December.

Despite their best efforts, the university went ahead and made god a part of the graduation.

Stephen Joiner, the public relations chair for UGAtheists, has the video and a rough transcript:

“This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Lord God almighty what a joy to witness the celebration of this
gathering of women, men [???] pursue a degree from the University of Georgia. You have combined families, friends, and resources to make today a reality. It is just like 1785 when You called Abraham Baldwin to leave the comfort and security of Yale Divinity School to come here and be an educational pioneer and begin UGA out of nothing.

And so you continue to bring people here from around the United States and over 112 nations in this world. Thank you for the privilege and honor of being at UGA; this is a place that you love and support. [???] You know every person in this room; you know the struggles, the joys, the setbacks, and the friendships made. You yourself know what it is like to sacrifice and suffer for the joy of accomplishing that which seems impossible. Lord, as women and men lead this sacred life, would you enable them to walk into a life of service, for this is a great time to roll back ignorance, decay, and suffering and you are providing them worldwide opportunities to change lives, to bring beauty, and to comfort those with no hope.

Grant, oh God, as one man said, that these graduates be able to do all the good they can by all the means they can in all the ways they can in all the places they can at all the times they can to all the people they can, as long as ever they can. I commit this time of recognition and celebration to you. Please bless all. Amen. ” –December 16th, 2011

Courts have generally ruled that non-denominational prayers are acceptable at public graduations, but the initial reference to Psalm 118:24 and a “suffering” god indicate this is specifically a Christian prayer.

At what point does it go from being a generic prayer to being a Christian prayer? When does it cross the line? Is there a case to be made for this prayer going too far?

Even if nothing comes of it, the UGAtheists did the right thing by bringing this to our attention and we need to keep supporting groups who try to keep god out of public graduations.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Kaydenpat

    Sue and force the University to defend itself.  I don’t understand why it is necessary to pray at a public function.  I assume that many of those graduating are not Christians, and felt uncomfortable sitting through this speech.

    • Silo Mowbray

      Exactly right Kaydenpat, but that doesn’t matter. We’re supposed to tolerate it and just shut up.

  • Stephen

    Thanks Hemant! We appreciate your support and the support of your readers. If you have Facebook, check us out here: 
    http://www.facebook.com/ugaprayer

  • Edwin

    Had I been part of the grad class I’d have gotten up and left as soon as the prayer started. UGA could pay to mail my diplomy to me.

    • Anonymous

      I would have sat and had my headphones on.

  • http://twitter.com/Dicy_Ann Dicy Saylor

    I graduated from Georgia last May and they had a graduation prayer that was very obviously a Christian prayer. I wish I had a recording but sadly I don’t. It was very awkward, I mean this was MY graduation;a celebration of MY hard work and my family’s support, not a celebration to give thanks to a god I don’t believe in. Anyways, I just sat there quietly with my head up and eyes open thinking to myself, “not only is this kind of rude to everyone here who doesn’t believe in the Christian god, IS THIS EVEN LEGAL!?!” My alma mater isn’t all bad though, just wish they’d stop this nonsense.

    • Stephen

      Dicy! Did you recognize me? :P

      • http://twitter.com/Dicy_Ann Dicy Saylor

        I did!! Congrats on graduating Mr. Joiner. :-D

        • Stephen

          :D

  • johnboy

    Behold, the Lord’s anger with the University of Coca-Cola (oops, I mean UGA) was great, and his face was hidden from them. And he sent Boise State and the Carolina Gamecocks to smite them, verily.

  • Annie

    “And so you continue to bring people here from around the United States and over 112 nations in this world.”I don’t know who was saying the prayer, but I think it would be fairly obvious to even the lesser educated that if you have representatives from 112 nations, chances are pretty good that not everyone being honored is a Christian.

    • Stephen

      It was a Reverend from the campus ministry.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    Is there a case to be made for this prayer going too far?

    Well, as far as I’m concerned, it went too far when it reached the seventh word, but your lawyer may differ.

    I found the prayer’s remarks about people having been “combined” there by God and “brought” there by God to be peculiar. It was worded as if they didn’t make a free will choice about it, but were picked up and placed there like inanimate toy figures on a child’s bedroom floor. If there’s no free will, then why are people held responsible for their “sins,” and why are they rewarded for their piety? If there is free will, then why is the prayer’s writer thanking God for bringing them there?  If there is free will some of the time, but no free will some of the time, then how can anyone ever know the difference? 

  • Greisha

    Can anybody explain in laypeople terms why non-denominational prayers are acceptable by court.  I really would like to know.

    • Anonymous

      I’ve wondered the same thing.  How can any prayer be non-denominational in the first place, given the huge diversity of various beliefs.  

    • Anonymous

      There is no reason other than the courts finding some lame excuse to keep prayer

    • Stephen

      Apparently, they think if you don’t endorse a specific religion, it’s OK. Thing is, “theism” is arguably a religion, so that argument doesn’t hold. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HUBC46MGFJSBY5QYEURF7XMSEE Joshua

    As someone who lives in Athens, and has lived in various parts of GA all my life I can only say, I’m not at all suprised.  This is a state where a couple of years ago our Governor had a prayer meeting on the steps of the capital in order to… wait for it… PRAY FOR RAIN.  No, unfortunately I’m not kidding.  I’m just glad that sacrificing live animals to God in order to gain favor has fallen out of practice.

  • Anonymous

    I was shocked to see this prayer.  Stephen, do you know how long they’ve been doing this?  I graduated in the summer of ’96, in Sanford Stadium.  Honestly, all I remember was it was hot, and Billy Payne spoke (everyone had Olympic fever, I guess).  If we had a prayer, I certainly don’t recall it, and would be shocked if it was this blatant (and long).

    I still love going back to Athens, but it’s definitely changed a good bit.  Anyway, congrats on your graduation and thanks for everything you are doing to bring this to our attention.

    • Stephen

      I’m not sure how long it’s been going on, but I can confirm the last 3 years as a witness.

  • Anonymous

    This is really making me reconsider my decision to pursue graduate studies at this university. I refuse to subsidize this crap.


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