Archive for month: May, 2014

The Disinvited Graduation Speakers

21 May
May 21, 2014

Watching the silencing of Condoleezza Rice and other graduation speakers this graduation season, I found myself thinking of the “check your privilege” debate, and of the complexities of power in the university setting.  At least some of the protestors seemed to be exercising their own form of privilege—privilege that they have in universities, but will not have quite so much of in the working world.

Some warn that the protests are destroying the long tradition of inviting prominent figures to deliver commencement addresses.  I’m no fan of the protests, but perhaps there’s a silver lining.  The politicization of graduation speeches may encourage more colleges to invite artists and poets and philosophers to deliver the speeches.  It don’t think this would be such a bad thing, and it may even serve as a final reminder that the best colleges do much more than maximize the starting salaries of their graduates.


21 May
May 21, 2014

Those who have glanced at this blog know that I am no fan of the art-for-pensions deal– aka, the Grand Bargain– in its current form.  Here’s a recent op-ed on that theme.

A committee of the Michigan House has a key vote on Michigan’s proposed contribution to the deal today.  One of the interesting features of the political context is that Michigan governor Rick Snyder is a Republican; the legislature is controlled by Republicans; and as it turns out, Judge Gerald Rosen, the mediator who is purported to have masterminded the art-for-pensions deal, was once a Republican candidate for Congress.   Given that Michigan Republicans have had a fraught relationship with Detroit in the past, a decision to provide state support– either for this deal or in another form– would be a little like Nixon’s decision to go to China.

“I” and “We” in Town of Greece

07 May
May 7, 2014

In this week’s big Religion Clause case, the Supreme Court upheld the practice in Town of Greece, New York of permitting local clergy to open legislative sessions in prayer.  Rather than appointing a permanent chaplain to deliver bland, nonsectarian prayers, Town of Greece selected a different chaplain each month, rotating through the religious congregations listed in the phone book.  Two residents alleged that the practice violated the Establishment Clause, because the vast majority of the chaplains were Christian, and because many of the prayers invoked Jesus and were otherwise sectarian in nature.   The Supreme Court disagreed, siding with Town of Greece by a 5-4 vote.

The case has been construed as a big victory for Christian churches, and in a sense it is.  But Christians and Christian churches should be careful what they wish for.  Local governments that adopt the Town of Greece model will need to invite adherents of all perspectives to take their turn leading prayer.  After listening to the prayers of atheists and wiccans, as well as other religions, some public prayer advocates may conclude that opening legislative sessions in prayer isn’t such a wonderful idea after all.  I doubt that the new case will prompt thousands of local communities to follow Town of Greece’s lead.

When Christian pastors do pray before legislative sessions, non-Christian hearers will be listening very carefully to the pronouns they use.  In church and in other Christian settings, we often preface our statements with “we pray” and conclude by saying “we pray Jesus’s name.”  This isn’t likely to go over so well before a legislative session, which suggests that when Christians or adherents of other faiths pray in the legislative setting, they will need to be careful to say “I pray,” without presuming on their hearers.  It’s the kind of attention to pronouns many of us are familiar with when we offer grace before meals with non-Christian friends in our own homes.