Like it or not, separation of church and state is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
Everson v. Board of Education, Abbington vs. Schempp, Lemon vs. Kertzman and Lee v. Weismen among others affirm this principle. Now, either Student Activities isn’t aware that opening a tax payer-funded banquet at a public university with prayer is unconstitutional, or they don’t care.
It’s likely the latter.
On Thursday night, YSU recognized its best and brightest students at the Annual Student Awards Banquet, and before the event began, a student member of the Coalition for Christian Outreach took to the stage to lead the few hundred attendees in prayer.
YSU represents a diverse student body. Christians share this university with Muslims, Jewish students and even those godless, heathen Atheists! Beginning an awards ceremony by invoking the blessing of “Our Heavenly Father” not only coerces everyone to participate, but ultimately violates our constitutional guarantee of irreligious freedom implied within the First Amendment’s religion clauses.
A similar incident came before the Supreme Court in 2000, Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe. In it, a prayer, delivered over a public address system, by a student volunteer before a high school football game was deemed unconstitutional.
Justice John Paul Stevens wrote, on behalf of the majority, that a prayer “on school property, at school-sponsored events, over the school’s public address system, by a speaker representing the student body, under the supervision of school faculty,” would ultimately lead those in attendance to, “unquestionably perceive the inevitable pregame prayer as stamped with her school’s seal of approval.”
Emails sent to Carrie Anderson, coordinator of programs and marketing in the student activities department, and Holly Jacobs, general counsel, regarding this issue have so far gone unanswered.
Students have every right to believe whatever, practice their faith and fellowship with whomever they want on campus. We will continue to support their rights.
That being said, banquet attendees shouldn’t be coerced to participate in a protestant prayer.
YSU officials on all levels should discourage this practice and ensure that it doesn’t happen again.
We’re willing to take the chance that campus activities will be as efficient, or not, as always.