Apr. 7, 2010
Trinity University in Texas is a private school that was founded by Presbyterians in 1869, but isn't really religious anymore and hasn't been for over 40 years now. It has an independent board of trustees and the student body is made up of people from a variety of religious faiths and no religious faith.
Because of that, some students are upset that their diplomas say "In the Year of Our Lord" on them, and they're fighting to have the phrase removed:
"A diploma is a very personal item, and people want to proudly display it in their offices and homes," Sidra Qureshi, president of Trinity Diversity Connection, told the [Houston] Chronicle. "By having the phrase ‘In the Year of Our Lord,' it is directly referencing Jesus Christ, and not everyone believes in Jesus Christ."
Qureshi, a Muslim student at the school, is leading the campaign to remove the words. The Board of Trustees is expected to vote on the matter during a meeting next month.
David Tuttle, the Dean of Students, suggests it might be a good change to make:
It has appeared to me that the students pushing for a change have more at stake than those who wish to retain the current language. It would mean more to the students who object to the wording to have the language removed than it would mean to the students who want it to stay the same. For the former it is personal and about acceptance and inclusion. For the others it is primarily philosophical. Most wouldn't feel that the change would lessen the diploma. Most didn't know the language was even there in the first place. In a year, no one would miss the current phrasing. Shouldn't we respect the wishes of those who feel hurt by this? Removing the language, ironically, would seem the Christian thing to do [emphasis mine].
Makes some sense… so what's the argument for keeping it?
"Any cultural reference, even if it is religious, our first instinct should not be to remove it, but to accept it and tolerate it," said Brendan McNamara, president of the College Republicans.
McNamara pointed out that Trinity displays other signs of its Christian heritage, including a chapel on campus, a chaplain, Christmas vespers and a Bible etching on the Trinity seal.
"Once you remove that phrase, where do you draw the line?" McNamara asked.
Does he have a point?
If the issue is the overt religious reference in the phrasing, then why not get rid of the overt religious reference in the Bible etching on the school's seal? Or the chapel on campus? I don't see that as a slippery slope argument.
Kate Shellnutt of the Houston Chronicle thinks the students shouldn't be fighting the battle in this case. After all, several other historically religious schools still have the phrase on their diplomas–it's more of a tradition thing than any real reference to a god.
Other institutions, both public and private, use the phrase, like:
Yale University (in Latin)
Brown University (also in Latin)
Students at the University of Tennessee and Ohio State University would have a stronger case for getting rid of "Year of Our Lord" because they are state schools. But when the schools in question are private with historically religious ties, it's a much harder case to make that they should reinvent themselves as secular in all ways.
While I support the sentiment of what Qureshi is trying to do, you can't go to a private school named Trinity University and expect that you won't encounter a Christian reference or two along the way.
But I would love to see the public university students take a stand…
Hemant Mehta is the Chair of the Secular Student Alliance (SSA) Board of Directors. He has worked with the Center for Inquiry and also is an SSA representative to the Secular Coalition for America. Hemant received national attention, including being featured on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, for his work as the "eBay Atheist." Hemant's blog can be read at FriendlyAtheist.com, and his book, I Sold My Soul on eBay, (WaterBrook Press) is now available on Amazon.com. He currently works as a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago.