May 13, 2014
Eli Hvastkovs, an assistant chemistry professor at East Carolina University, would have recoiled recently listening to professional golfer J.B. Holmes’ post-round interview after he won the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte.
Holmes was heavy with the thanks, but heaviest in directing it toward “God” and “my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Clearly Holmes believes God’s hand helped him rebound from brain surgery 31 months ago to win the PGA Tour event — and was inspired to share that message.
If it were up to Hvastkovs, graduates of East Carolina’s chemistry program would not have had the same opportunity. Hvastkovs, in an email to graduates, told his students to prepare a “family friendly” personal statement of 35 words or less to be read at the department’s graduation ceremony that reveals future plans or “thanks someone.”
But, Hvastkovs advised, there would be a restriction.
“You can’t thank God. I’m sorry about this — and I don’t want to have to outline the reasons why,” said Hvastkovs, who apparently stopped reading before he got to the First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution.
We wish Hvastkovs had explained his reasoning because we are curious why anyone would feel compelled to prevent a graduating student who was inclined to do so from thanking God — or god — for their accomplishment.
When the media got hold of the story, Hvastkovs responded with something just a bit more enlightening than blah, blah, blah.
“It’s not a religious ceremony, it’s purely educational.” And he added, “It’s more of a departmental thing, we have a diverse student body.”
Clearly Hvastkovs believes that there would be those who would be offended by the mention of the Judeo-Christian God, although there is also god, a generic term for a higher being that works for any religion.
Hvastkovs gives power to those who argue that the scales have been tipped, that the problem is not so much Christians’ intolerance of those who don’t share their views, but those who are intolerant of Christians. We struggle to understand why anyone, an atheist or agnostic, would be offended by another person’s expression of faith, especially if it were 35 words or less.
There is a happy ending to this story.
ECU Provost Marilyn Sheerer, after learning of Hvastkovs’ guidelines when contacted for comment by a news organization, overruled him, telling the students that “religious references of any type will not be restricted.”
Thank God. Or god.