Editor, the Gauntlet
As an atheist I was excluded, offended and perplexed by the speaker at the new student induction who was dressed in ceremonial Native Canadian garb with her traditional drum. I think that it was inappropriate for a secular institution to allow a person representing them, and presumably all of the student body, to offer a prayer to the Creator. The prayer was not merely offered, but the speaker phrased the prelude to it in such a way that was coercive to non-believers in motivating them to stand. Not doing so put great social pressures on them which, if they didn't fold to, could be socially marginalizing. So the non-believer was faced with a nasty dilemma: either she compromises her values and beliefs by standing in order to respect the views of the majority, or she faces potentially harmful effects to her reputation by remaining seated. It should be noted that our intent in doing this is not to offend any of those who do hold religious beliefs, but rather to demonstrate that we do not share the same belief set as them and to resist what feels like an imposition. If the speaker had been openly announced as a devotee of a more specific, mainstream religion, then I suspect many others would have remained seated for similar reasons. Various cases from history have taught us that marginalization and discrimination against minority groups is almost always not only unjustified, but altogether unjustifiable.
How offended would everyone-- not only a select set of people-- be if there was not a prayer offered at all? Would it be that much worse to not recognize revealed traditions that not everyone adheres to? Would it not be preferable to simply have a speech that doesn't invoke any metaphysics, but rather puts emphasis on the necessity of human unity across all traditions, ages, races and sexes? I think a secular speech of this nature could have the same amount of motivational force, emotional worth and general inspirational value. I suggest that for future inductions a speech like this be given in order to prevent exclusion rather than one that divides us into separate religious communities.