Features/Outlooks: Church and State will likely always be an issue at USU

Natalie Larson

Natalie Larson, staff writer

As one of its earliest principles, the United States decreed the separation of church and state and was pronounced a place of religious tolerance for all faiths.

This principle has extended into the nation’s classrooms through Supreme Court cases like Murray vs. Curlett, which banned mandatory prayer in schools in 1963, said Anthony Peacock, a political science professor

The national laws governing religion in public schools are not the same as those for institutions of higher education.

Utah State University Provost Craig Petersen said, “The difference is that we’re dealing with adults. Students at the university are better able to listen to information and make their own decisions than students at public schools. That’s a fundamental difference that applies to a lot of things.”

At Utah State University, religion in the classrooms is an issue left up to the discretion of individual professors, according to Assistant Provost Dianna Whin.

Petersen said, “We give to the faculty academic freedom. We hope they would exercise that fairly.”

There haven’t been any incidents where a faculty member had to be disciplined for inappropriate religious references at Utah State as far as Petersen could remember, he said.

The official policy is located in section 305.1 of the faculty code, which states that based on a person’s religious preference the university, students and the faculty cannot “refuse to hire; discharge; promote; demote; terminate; discriminate in compensation; or discriminate regarding terms, privileges, or conditions of employment, against any person otherwise qualified.”

This includes situations in the classroom, residence halls and on or off-campus school sponsored events and activities.

“Utah State University is committed to providing an environment free from harassment and other forms of discrimination,” according to the policy.

In December’s Presidential Diversity Forum, President Emert said it was fine for teachers to use religious references as examples, but it was inappropriate to proselyte in the classroom.

Steven Hanks, a professor in the Management and Human Resources department, said, “I would assume that the number one rule is that we want people of all faiths, religious persuasions and belief systems to feel welcome on the campus. Everything that happens in the classroom should be respectful and open to different viewpoints.”

Hanks said it is as inappropriate to mock or make light of an ethnic minority as it is with a religious minority or majority.

He said, “The faculty need to be sensitive to the fact that there are people of many different persuasions in their classrooms. The bottom line is respect.”

Randy Simmons, the political science department professor said, “As long as it’s academic anything is valid.”

According to Simmons, “preaching is not appropriate,” but he said in one of his courses they read Exodus and Dueteronomy because “Moses is one of the world’s greatest political leaders.”

Simmons said he had never had any instances in his class where a student felt his or her religious beliefs were challenged.

If a student has a professor who he or she feels is treating them unfairly, they should first talk directly with the professor, according to the provost secretary, Louise Mills. If the problem persists, they can seek further help from the department head, the dean, or the provost in that order of authority.

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