GREENVILLE, N.C. — A public university in North Carolina has reversed a professor’s ban on thanking God during the chemistry department’s recognition ceremony.
Eli Hvastkovs, an assistant professor at East Carolina University (ECU), sent an email to chemistry senior earlier this month outlining the guidelines surrounding personal statements at the departmental graduation ceremony. The statements were to be read aloud by others at the university during the event.
“Just a reminder to everyone that if you are planning on being at the graduation ceremony, you can provide me with a personal statement that thanks someone or tells us your future plans. I’ve had some submissions that needed to be edited, so here are some guidelines,” he wrote.
“You can’t thank God,” he noted as his first point. “I’m sorry about this—and I don’t want to have to outline the reasons why.”
However, the matter soon made headlines as some students were upset, provoking ECU Provost Dr. Marilyn Sheerer to send a follow-up email overturning Hvastkovs’ instructions. She said that the Hvastkov’s email was not authorized by the university and was incorrect.
“Please disregard Dr. Hvastkovs’ previous email regarding your departmental graduation statement,” Sheerer wrote. “I have confirmed with the Chair of the Department of Chemistry that students may submit personal statements, up to 35 words, to be read during the departmental ceremony. These statements can be your personal expressions and as such the University will only limit these expressions, as permitted by applicable First Amendment law.”
“Religious references of any type will not be restricted,” she continued. “I regret that, without approval from the appropriate university officials, any other limitations were communicated to you.”
Hvastokovs has since told local television station WITN that he originally issued the restriction when those who were reviewing the statements said that they “were not comfortable thanking a God on behalf of the students.”
He said that he regrets the way that he worded the email, and noted that he is not an atheist.
“I feel terrible that there are ECU alumni that are emailing me and commenting on the message boards bad things about me,” Hvastokovs told the outlet. “And I wanted to say that I am a regular good person, who just sent a poorly worded, poorly thought out email. I am sorry.”
As previously reported, the mention of God at graduation has been a frequent point of contention at ceremonies nationwide. Last year, Roy Costner IV drew loud applause and cheers when he surprised attendees of the Liberty High School graduation at Clemson’s Littlejohn Colliseum following the school district’s decision to no longer include prayer at graduation ceremonies.
After taking the podium, Costner took his approved speech and ripped it in half for all to see. As he spoke from a separate script for a few minutes, Costner then began to thank his parents for his Christian upbringing.
“Those that we look up to, they have helped carve and mold us into the young adults that we are today,” he said. “I’m so glad that both of my parents led me to the Lord at a young age.”
“And I think most of you will understand when I say…” he continued, surprising the crowd with what came next. “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy Kingdom come…”
As attendees realized that Costner was reciting the Lord’s Prayer, applause began to break out in the colliseum. Within seconds, the applause was accompanied by loud cheers.
The district decided not to take action against Costner, stating that they would not punish him for his faith.