Univ. of Md. Students to Protest President's Prayer Reinstatement

Student senators at the University of Maryland who voted to eliminate the invocation during commencement say they plan to hold a protest early next month of the president's recent decision to reinstate the prayer.

Kevin Tervala, a student senator who voted against keeping the graduation prayer, a long-standing university tradition, said that while he respects religion he doesn't believe it has a place at a ceremony intended to celebrate students' accomplishments.

"The protest is going to showcase the religious diversity and spirit of individualism we have on this campus," said Tervala in an article published Monday by The Diamondback, the university's student newspaper.

"That's why we're having the protest. Religion cannot serve as an all encompassing force of bringing people together. It has a place in society, just not necessarily at the graduation of a state-sponsored institution," he said.

The University Senate, which is comprised of faculty, students and staff, had voted 32-14 last Monday following a lengthy debate to abolish the prayer. Every student senator voted in support of ending the prayer, the school newspaper reported, many citing the principle of the separation of church and state behind their decision.

But in a rare move, the university's president Dan Mote decided Thursday to overrule the Senate's vote, saying, "A great many people who participate in our ceremonies either embrace this tradition or are willing to allow others who value it to have it as part of the ceremony."

University spokesman Lee Tune said the school received many calls and e-mails following the Senate vote, "most supporting a continuance of our tradition of having an invocation at commencement," according to The Washington Post.

Mote said in Monday's article by The Diamondback that he made the decision after concluding from conversations with people that the campus as a whole was not in favor of the ban.

"There needs to be a strong force to walk away from tradition," he said. "I didn't feel the strength."

University Senate Chair Ken Holum contended to the school paper that it was people outside of campus, not students, who responded adversely to the Senate vote.

Most of the faculty members of the Senate had opposed removing the two-minute prayer during commencement. They said it would reflect negatively on the university especially after it recently drew media attention over a decision to allow students to show excerpts of a porn film on campus.

The University canceled the screening after a state senator threatened to strip the University's funding. An independent student group later showed the sexually explicit film at a lecture hall.

The main commencement ceremony at the University of Maryland is scheduled for May 21, 2009.