Secular students succeed at Ripon

Ripon College’s Secular Student Alliance chapter in Ripon, Wis., has successfully petitioned the administration to confine religious speech and prayers to the school’s optional baccalaureate ceremony. No more prayers will be heard at the campus-wide commencement ceremony.

Ripon College, privately founded in 1851, originally had formal ties with the Presbyterian and Congregational churches but cut them in 1868. Its first six presidents had clerical backgrounds, but the school has long been religiously unaffiliated.

Professor Steve Martin, an FFRF member and the college’s Communication Department chair, helped students draft the petition to the commencement planning committee. He’s also the group’s faculty adviser.

The petition begins, “We, the undersigned, respectfully request that religious speech be removed from commencement ceremonies and other public events. The college’s mission and values are entirely secular. Any form of religious speech at public events suggests otherwise. As such, we contend that prayers at events violate Ripon’s stated goals of teaching students of diverse interests. Furthermore, we believe it goes directly against one of Ripon College’s core values: ‘Differences of perspective, experience, background, and heritage enrich the college. Relationships are sincere, friendly, welcoming and supportive.’ ”

The students noted that “having ‘interfaith’ or ‘nondenominational’ invocations does not solve the main problem. Such prayers still show a clear preference for belief over nonbelief, religion over no religion, and theism over atheism.”

The petition further noted the value of tradition, but added the college “has had no affiliation with any church or religious group for at least 150 years. We believe it is time our public ceremonies reflect our secular mission and values. Thank you for considering our request.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation