I got a press release in my inbox today from the Secular Student Alliance. It turns out the University of North Georgia is holding mandatory prayers for on campus events for its cadets, which is a legal and ethical no-no.
“University of North Georgia students are standing up for the separation of church and state on their campus, something that we encourage among our student activists,” says Gordon Maples, Regional Program Manager of the Secular Student Alliance, “Students have a lot more power and influence than they may think, and we want to help them advocate for their rights.”
Beginning in October 2012, the University of North Georgia Dahlonega campus has received numerous complaints about its violations of the religious rights of non-religious cadets. There have been several instances of explicitly Christian prayers at mandatory events for cadets, most recently a 9/11 memorial event. The event was put together by the Student Government Association at the behest of the administration, and there were several prayers throughout the event.
UNG administration claims that this event was not required, but there are sworn affidavits from UNG Skeptics Society members stating it was, in fact, mandatory. The students are choosing to remain anonymous because they are concerned going public could jeopardize their future at the school.
“The memorial was in no way demonstrably separate from the University in its sponsorship,” one student stated, “It took place on university grounds and was presided over by the University chaplain and student leadership.”
Cadets at the University of North Georgia are civilians, not active military personnel, which is an important distinction. As a publicly funded civilian institution, the University of North Georgia does not have the option of issuing prayers over mandatory events under current laws [like West Point].
Due to pressure from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, the University of North Georgia has re-opened an investigation from 2012 into the prayers at mandatory events on campus. Next steps depend on the outcome of the investigation as well as to whether or not the university corrects its behavior.
The Secular Student Alliance commends these students for their bravery in standing up to their university administration. While we regret that these students feel the need to remain anonymous due to the potential backlash from their peers, we are still proud that they choose to stand for their rights. The University of North Georgia Skeptics Society also backs them and their efforts on campus.
It’s funny when we hear of politicians or Christians desperate for any excuse to claim persecution boldly claim they’re not afraid to announce their Christianity. Of course you’re not, since Christians are the majority. Not a damn negative thing will happen to you, and it doesn’t take a lot of courage to say or do anything that bears no chance of negative consequences. In fact, just the act of calling it brave is almost a declaration that the extent of your courage doesn’t reach terribly far.
But these students? What they’re doing takes guts. This is the type of stuff soldiers should be made of. And they’re right: our military fights to defend our Constitution, which dictates a separation of church and state in order to ensure religious liberty. When sectarian religion starts oozing into the body designated to defend that separation, religious liberty has some real problems.