Phi Beta Cons

Those Pesky Paper Trails

In today’s Inside Higher Ed, Mohave Community College takes issue with an Alliance Defense Fund Center for Academic Freedom press release noting that we had secured a victory for a graduation speaker who objected to the removal of public prayer from the graduation program and feared that her own speech would be censored if she attempted to pray. (Public prayer at college graduation has routinely been upheld by federal courts.) After ADF sent an informational letter to the school outlining the governing law, the college restored prayer to the program.

The college president, however, told Inside Higher Ed that the graduation prayers had never been cancelled and that for ADF to take credit for putting prayer back in the program was like taking credit “for the sun coming up tomorrow morning.” This led Inside Higher Ed to ask whether our press release was “Victory or Hype on Graduation Prayer?”

If Inside Higher Ed had asked us for comment on the story (next time, please call us . . . we don’t issue releases without evidence), they would have discovered we have a paper trail. Internal university documents show the invocation and benediction lined out of the program, and an internal e-mail clearly states that the commencement committee thought “church and state should remain separate” and “apparently there is a legal precedence.” (Note to college administrators: When a university committee refers to precedent as “a legal precedence,” that’s a fairly good clue that they they’re not necessarily experts in the field.)

My colleague Travis Barham has all the details. Ironically enough, the college lashed out at a release that noted it should be “commended” for quickly restoring the prayers. We still think they should be commended for doing the right thing. Next time, however, don’t run from the paper trail.

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