BLOUNTVILLE, TN (WJHL) – Some students at one Tri-Cities college want prayer removed from the graduation program.
A group describing itself as concerned student leaders of Northeast State Community College submitted the request by letter to college President Dr. Janice Gilliam and to Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor Flora Tydings.
In part the letter requests that president Dr. Gilliam and the administration of the college refrain from conducting or promoting a prayer at graduation on May 9th. The letter also proposes out of respect for the diversity and inclusion of all students and faculty that a moment of silence replaces prayer during the commencement services.
Other students on campus Friday said they think prayer should remain part of the commencement.
“I completely respect their views, but I have to say that my personal views contrast theirs,” said Gloria Bridges. “It is something that we have traditionally done and that is the faith of what our founding fathers built this country upon.”
“Just to thank God for our schooling and all the blessings He’s given us,” said Jared Thaxton.
Still, Seth Manning, who signed the letter, said it’s a matter of inclusion and diversity that he’s fighting for.
“If you are Christian, as I am, we can pray. If you’re some different religion, if you’re of the Muslim faith, you can pray. If you’re atheist, if you just want a moment of silence to contemplate, you can do that,” Manning said.
We asked Northeast State about the request. In a statement to News Channel 11 the college said:
“The Tennessee Board of Regents does not have a policy on the subject. However, a 1997 federal court ruling involving Tennessee State University concluded that if a prayer or moment of silence is non-sectarian, with minimal involvement of the institution, it does not violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”
The group requesting that prayer be replaced with a moment of silence at graduation gave the school 24 hours to respond.
Northeast State’s graduation is set for Tuesday, May 9.
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