Your Right to Thank God, or Not

A professor attempted to restrict his students' First Amendment rights on graduation day.


Thanking God in a graduation speed isn't forcing religion or prayer on another person.

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Professor Eli Hvastkovs, an analytic chemistry professor at East Carolina University, tried unsuccessfully to prevent the university's students from thanking God in personal statements that will be read in a graduation ceremony this Friday. Hvastkovs was very specific with what he felt the students could, should and ought to say. In an email, he wrote, “provide me something written in the 3rd person” that discusses future plans or "thanks someone." However, he warned, "You can’t thank God. I’m sorry about this — and I don’t want to have to outline the reasons why." East Carolina University, known to the locals as ECU, is a public, taxpayer funded school.

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Hvastkovs said his reasoning was he thinks too many ECU students expressed gratitude to God during last years graduation ceremony, which he doesnt feel is a " a religious ceremony.” “It’s purely educational," he said in an email to Campus Reform, a higher education watchdog.

The professor isn't advocating a school wide ban, but he does want those in his department to adhere to his requests, or rules, if you will. But officials at ECU had their own rules, and after Hvastkovs made his demands known, they struck down his instructions, saying “religious references of any type will not be restricted."

The First Amendment is quite clear. These students have a First Amendment right to thank God. This is not forcing religion or prayer on another. If anyone is offended by those thanking God, they can cover their ears. As a liberal, I get tired of the God fight. Seriously, what has God done to non-believers? He can't do anything, really, if you do not believe he exists, right?

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I do not want anyone's First Amendment right to be infringed upon. But for those who think freedom of religion means freedom from religion, I have news: God is here to stay.

Just this week the Supreme Court ruled that opening prayers are allowed by local officials at town council meetings. Although a town council meeting is quite different from a college graduation ceremony, the First Amendment, again, is clear. These students have the right to their free speech and to their religious beliefs. Being that I'm here in Hollywood, land of the Academy Awards, you'll notice many actors thank the big agent in the sky, as well.

Although I do not support the Supreme Court ruling, because it deals with a specific religion (in this case, Christianity), thanking God does not designate a religion. I believe in God; I am not offended by anyone thanking him. The students, in this case, come from a university that is diverse in race, culture, ethnicity and religion. Any student who doesn't believe in God, or doesn't want to thank God, has that right as well.