The Muskegon Community College board of trustees voted unanimously on Wednesday to continue its tradition of graduation invocation, but only to the extent permitted by law governing church and state.
The vote followed a complaint sent to the MCC by the Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists (MACRA) about the 2018 graduation prayer led by MCC administrator Ann Oakes, who is also a minister. His invocation included a reference to Jesus, as well as multiple references to God and the Lord.
MCC board chairman Dr Donald Crandall said the vote clarifies that the invocation must not refer to a specific religion or its deity and is based on the opinion of the college lawyer .
“Prayer must be ecumenical. It must be brief. It needs to be linked to and celebrate the ongoing event, ”Crandall said. “And he shouldn’t be closely associated with the institution.”
According to MCC President Dale Nesbary, the invocation could still be religious as long as it is not focused on a particular religion and could contain references to God.
And Nesbary said it could still be issued by a religious leader like a rabbi, pastor or iman, or by a non-religious person.
“I don’t see this as a way to bring a religious person to campus,” Nesbary said. “I see it as bringing someone to campus who will give an idea of the solemnity of the event.”
Mitch Kahle, co-founder and representative of MACRA, said he was satisfied with the action of the board of directors in response to the complaint.
“They took it seriously. They reviewed the case with their lawyers,” Kahle said. “And they got to a situation where they want to keep the invocation. But they’re going to follow non-sectarian guidelines, so it’s not specific to any religion.”
Kahle said his preference would be for the MCC to drop the summon altogether.