University of Windsor drops convocation prayer after campus atheists protest

Jordana Divon
Contributing Writer
Daily Brew

New graduates can still thank their god for the blessings they've received — they'll just have to voice it on their own.

As The Lance reports, the University of Windsor has decided to act on numerous student pleas to remove the Lord's Prayer from their convocation ceremonies.

Shawna Scott, one of the leading advocates for the prayer's removal, took particular umbrage with the line "eternal God" as "the source of all goodness, discipline and knowledge."

A student and president of the Windsor-Essex County Atheist Society, Scott explained her motivation to the paper:

"The end result of us graduating is a product of our hard work, support from our family and friends and everyone working really hard to build our own success. To us, it doesn't come from a deity … it makes it really awkward to be there and feel excluded like that," she said.

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Instead, grads will be offered a "moment of reflection" during which time they can privately say a prayer or whatever else comes to mind.

The university's reverend will ask students to "take a moment to reflect on those who guided you along your path of learning, to appreciate our families, our teachers, our peers, the world in which we live and all that inspires us."

Scott has been advocating for the prayer's removal since her undergraduate graduation in 2010. She sent several letters to administrators and never received a reply.

This year, the grad student suggested the "moment of reflection" alternative and got an affirmative response one month later.

A University of Windsor spokeswoman confirmed the change as reflective of the school's increasingly diverse denomination.

"Having a moment of reflection is not unusual. It's changed because we have a changing campus. We have a lot of diversity on our campus … we want to make sure you feel included," she said.

Prayer as part of school-sponsored exercises has been an enormously contentious topic in recent years, with atheists petitioning for its removal and the religiously observant fighting to keep it in place.

In Saskatchewan earlier this year, student Jake Nantau, a self-described atheist, requested a moment of silence instead of having someone say grace before the school's graduation dinner.

Several members of the community allegedly met his request with active displeasure.

"Jake has had students at school put copies of religious scripture in his locker," his mother told CBC news. "He's had a couple of incidences with his car. Somebody removed the lug nuts on a tire. We had a car window smashed."

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And last October, a school north of Edmonton found itself in the middle of fierce debate between parents who wished to keep the Lord's Prayer as part of its daily program and those fiercely opposed to it.

Back in Windsor, however, staff and students have taken a broader approach to the change.

Kaye Johnson, director of the university's human rights office, told the campus paper that even within the Christian faith, there's a lot of "diversity" that wasn't being addressed.

"[T]he type of prayer is not reflective of all of Christianity. There was discomfort that's not only within people who have a different faith, but also of Christian faith," Johnson said.

Jordan Legg, a member of the campus' Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, took an even more philosophical approach to the Lance's question.

"I'm more concerned about people actually engaging with who Jesus is and loving him completely with their words and actions rather than giving him lip service at a convocation ceremony," he said.